overflowing trash receptacle

California Black Bears are Back in Action: Stash Food and Trash

California’s black bears are waking up hungry from their winter downtime. To help minimize unwanted bear foraging behavior, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is reminding those living in or visiting bear country to store food and dispose of garbage properly.

Black bears typically prefer remote mountainous areas. However, as more people frequent or live in natural bear habitat, the abundance of food and garbage associated with human activities is a temptation hungry bears find hard to resist.

“Over the years, we have seen bear behavior change significantly in areas where more people live and recreate in bear habitat,” said Vicky Monroe, CDFW’s Conflict Programs Coordinator. “Beginning with spring and into late fall, we receive a steady stream of calls from the public reporting anything from bears breaking into cabins and tents to bears stealing food off picnic tables.”

Black bears, like other bear species, have a highly specialized sense of smell, which can sometimes lead them to towns and recreation areas where they may quickly find an overflowing garbage can or someone’s leftover hamburger and French fries.

The public can help bears stay out of human settlements and stick to their natural diet by properly disposing of leftover food and garbage. Additional suggestions include:

  • Residents and vacationers should remove any food attractants from around their home or rental. Pet food, barbecue grills and bird feeders are also attractants. Store trash in bear-resistant storage sheds until trash pickup day.
  • Use sensory deterrents (such as ammonia), electric mats and bear-resistant fencing to exclude hungry and curious bears from gaining access to attractants.
  • Visitors to towns and tourist areas should not pile trash in a trash can or bin that is already overflowing – take trash to a proper receptacle or another location if necessary.
  • Keep campsites and other recreation areas clean. Use bear-resistant coolers and store all food in bear lockers.
  • Never feed wildlife.

Additional information can be found on CDFW’s website, including tips on how to keep California black bears wild, information about bear proof containers and information about black bear biology.


Media Contacts:
Lesa Johnston, CDFW Education and Outreach, (916) 322-8933
Victoria Monroe, CDFW Human-Wildlife Conflict Program, (916) 856-8335

Four Black Bears Transferred to Oakland Zoo Under Unique Circumstances

A female black bear and her three cubs were transferred to Oakland Zoo from the care of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Wildlife Investigations Lab on Tuesday.

Though it is CDFW policy not to place large adult mammals into captivity, a sequence of unique circumstances provided these bears an opportunity for a life as educational ambassadors at Oakland Zoo’s upcoming California Trail exhibit, rather than euthanasia for the sow and attempted rehabilitation of the cubs.

In the early hours of Monday, May 15, the sow and cubs broke into a home in Pine Mountain Club in Kern County. The elderly resident of the home attempted to haze the bears by banging pots and pans to no avail. The sow charged and swiped at the resident, causing injury to her left arm. She was treated at a local hospital and is recovering.

Per the CDFW public safety policy, a black bear that is known to have attacked or injured a human is deemed a public safety bear and must be euthanized.

During the investigation, CDFW learned of eight other incidents in the same vicinity over the three weeks leading up to the incident involving a sow with three cubs, believed to be the same four bears. These incidents were not reported to CDFW. None of these incidents resulted in human injury, however the bears did significant property damage to vehicles, garages and homes.

On the night of May 15, CDFW set a culvert trap in Pine Mountain Club and by the early morning of May 16, the sow and her cubs were safely captured. CDFW transported them to a holding facility at the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory near Sacramento. The cubs were approximately 12-15 lbs. and not yet weaned from the sow.

CDFW decided to hold and monitor all four bears until the cubs were weaned, with the hope that the cubs could be rehabilitated and eventually returned to their natural habitat. As a known public safety animal, the sow was to be euthanized per CDFW policy.

However as monitoring continued, CDFW staff determined that the bears were habituated to humans and not suitable candidates for release. CDFW began to search for a captive facility for the cubs.

Oakland Zoo requested to take the three cubs, as well as the sow, for their 56-acre California Trail expansion, its focus to highlight California’s natural habitat as part of an initiative to emphasize native species and educate the public about human-wildlife issues. In the interest of the cubs’ well-being and outreach opportunity, CDFW supported this unique strategy of placing the sow into captivity.

The exhibit, scheduled to open in summer of 2018, is intended to mimic California habitat, educate visitors about wildlife in California and inspire people to take action for the future of the state’s wildlife resources and habitats.

“Oakland Zoo is very grateful to be in a position to provide a home for these bears,” said Dr. Joel Parrott, President and CEO of Oakland Zoo. “They are an important example of the human-wildlife conflict and highlight how we need to care for wildlife throughout California.”

“We are so happy to be able to help these four bears,” said Colleen Kinzley, Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research at Oakland Zoo. “As too often is the case when wild animals come into conflict with humans, it’s the animals that lose. Oakland Zoo’s purpose is to help people understand the challenges and the responsibilities of living with wildlife. Our first responsibility will be to provide these bears a rich life in a complex natural habitat that will be part of our new California Trail exhibit opening in 2018. We will share their story and help people to understand the role we all have in preventing these types of situations.”

Tuesday’s transfer of a sow, predestined for euthanasia, with her three cubs was highly unusual. No opportunity for transfer of a known public safety animal has previously existed. This situation is unique and does not set precedent for future outcomes for other habituated bears, public safety animals or nuisance wildlife. Additionally, captivity is far from an ideal outcome for a wild bear.

The best outcome for these black bears would have been to exhibit natural, healthy behaviors in their native habitat, free of human-related attractants, wildlife feeding issues and eventual habituation. During CDFW’s investigation, Pine Mountain Club residents reported that the sow had been well known in the area for a couple of years and they believed this was her first litter of cubs. The sow was known to scavenge for human-related food sources, cause property damage, and was teaching her cubs how to enter vehicles and homes in search of food. As a result of habituation, these bears did not recognize how to search for or rely on natural food sources.

“We are thankful for the unique opportunity Oakland Zoo has provided for these bears, and for the partnership that developed because of it,” said CDFW Wildlife Veterinarian Brandon Munk. “These four bears will have a new facility to call home and a group of people to help care for them. While it is always best to keep wildlife in the wild, sometimes that is not a good option. Wildlife that habituates to humans or becomes a public safety concern are not good candidates to be released back into the wild. There will never be enough space in zoos to place habituated or public safety animals, so we all must do our part to keep wildlife wild, by not feeding wildlife.”

Despite extensive public education and outreach in Pine Mountain Club about how to live in bear country, many residents are known to feed bears. Not only is feeding wild animals illegal, giving them access to human food and garbage causes them to lose their natural foraging habits and can make them aggressive.

CDFW regularly educates communities about how to keep both humans and wild animals safe. CDFW will continue to reach out to Pine Mountain Club and surrounding communities to create bear-aware communities and prevent future circumstances like this. Learn more at www.wildlife.ca.gov/Keep-Me-Wild.

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Media Contacts:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937
Erin Harrison, Oakland Zoo Marketing and Communications, (510) 632-9525 ext. 135


Fish and Wildlife Officers File Charges Against Suspected Bear Poachers in Nevada County

Following a five month investigation, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officers have formally asked the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office to file felony and misdemeanor charges against suspected bear poachers Jason Scott Wilkison, 43, of Grass Valley and Chris Art Nunley, 54, of North San Juan for crimes related to alleged bear poaching in April 2013.

Both men have been charged with the unlawful possession of bear. Additional charges of unlawfully killing a bear were filed against Wilkison. Both individuals also face felony charges involving the unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition.

Lead investigator, Warden Jerry Karnow, launched the investigation when he received reports of a bear that had been unlawfully shot after being lured with bait to a residence located near Grizzly Flats in Nevada County. Wildlife officers, assisted by Nevada County Sheriff’s deputies, served a series of search warrants where bear remains were found in a shallow grave near Wilkison’s residence. Additional bear remains were located at Nunley’s residence.

The CDFW Forensic Laboratory was involved in an analysis of the blood and bear remains, which CDFW believes will support the case. The recovery of firearms, ammunition and evidence throughout the investigation indicate Wilkison and Nunley, who are convicted felons, unlawfully possessed firearms and ammunition.

Media Contact:
Mark Michilizzi, CDFW Enforcement, (916) 651-2084
Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement, (916) 651-6692

CDFW to Host Bear Aware Information Meeting in Big Bear

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will host a bear information and awareness meeting for residents of the Big Bear area on Saturday, Aug. 17 at 7 p.m. The meeting is in response to numerous reports of bears getting into trash cans and back yards. The extended drought conditions are a likely cause of bears roaming farther out of the natural habitat in search of food.

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“Bears most often enter residential areas because of attractants such as unsecured garbage, pet food or bird seed,” said CDFW Wildlife Biologist Jeff Villepique. “The department is asking residents and visitors to be vigilant by keeping food and garbage inaccessible to wild animals.”

When bears are allowed to feed on human food or garbage, they become habituated, meaning that they lose their fear of humans. They will then likely return to the area to seek out more easily accessible food. Keeping bear attractants like food and garbage secured helps ensure that a safe distance is kept between people and wildlife.

It’s against the law to leave food or trash where bears or other wild animals can access these attractants. Once a bear becomes habituated to human food sources, it is likely to damage property, threaten public safety and ultimately may have to be destroyed.

“Most encounters between wildlife and people are the result of people problems, not wildlife problems,” said Villepique. “However, it’s often wildlife that pays the price.”

CDFW recommends the following general guidelines when living or visiting bear country;

  • Keep trash inside garages, sheds or other enclosures until the morning of trash pick-up.
  • Save smelly kitchen scraps in a bag in the freezer and put it outside in the trash on pick-up day.
  • Feed pets indoors and don’t store pet food or bird seed on the porch.
  • Keep bird feeders out of reach of bears by hanging them from a line strung between two. trees – clean feeders regularly to protect birds from transmitting diseases like salmonella.
  • Anything with a strong odor can attract an unwelcome visitor, a bear can smell a barbecue from a long way, be sure to scrape the grill and burn off gristle.

The public is invited to a free slide show, “Living with Black Bears,” at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug.  17 at the Big Bear Valley Senior Center, 42651 Big Bear Blvd. in Big Bear Lake. The talk, by Jeff Villepique of CDFW, will cover bear biology as well as steps to keep bears wild.  It will be followed by a question and answer session.

For more information on living with wildlife, please visit: www.dfg.ca.gov/keepmewild.html.  To report a bear sighting, call the CDFW Big Bear field station at 584-9012.

Media Contacts:              
Jeff Villepique, CDFW Wildlife Biologist, (760) 937-5966
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944

California Black Bear

Recent Bear Encounters Prompt Reminder For Residents To Be Bear Aware

Media Contacts:
Janice Mackey, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8908
Carol Singleton, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8962

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is reminding residents across the state to be bear aware. California Black Bear

Over the last few months, several bears have been observed in and near residential areas, including areas where they have not been present for many decades.

While bear activity is common this time of year, wildlife management staff say it is possible that a healthy population and a dry winter may be attracting bears to urban environments earlier than normal. Bears are more commonly found in residential areas toward the end of summer or right before hibernation in the fall months.

“The thriving population, coupled with a dry spring could be playing a role in the uptick of activity. We want to encourage residents who live in areas near bear habitat to be extra diligent securing their trash and bear-proofing their homes,” said CDFW state bear program coordinator, Marc Kenyon. “We want Californians to enjoy bears. However, we don’t want bears to become reliant on food intentionally or otherwise provided by people.”

California has one species of bear– the black bear. With more than 30,000 bears in California, it is not surprising that during the summer months CDFW offices receive many calls about bears rummaging through trash bins, raiding campsites or making their way into residential areas.

CDFW recommends the following tips for businesses, campers and homeowners:

• Purchase and properly use a bear-proof garbage container.
• Wait to put trash out until the morning of collection day.
• Don’t leave trash, groceries, or animal feed in your car.
• Keep garbage cans clean and deodorize them with bleach or ammonia.
• Keep barbecue grills clean and stored in a garage or shed when not in use.
• Don’t leave any scented products outside, even non-food items such as suntan lotion, insect repellent, soap or candles.
• Keep doors and windows closed and locked.
• Harvest fruit off trees as soon as it is ripe, and promptly collect fruit that falls.

For more information, visit: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/keepmewild/bear.html