Column: People Must Change Behavior to Reduce Human-Bear Conflict Problems in Lake Tahoe | South Lake Tahoe

Not only has 2021 been a chaotic year in South Lake Tahoe for a number of reasons, but we’ve also seen a record number of bear / human conflict issues. I’ve heard a number of people say this was due to the Caldor fire, but it’s not just an overly simplistic view. The fire actually had little effect on the activities of our local “urbanized” black bear population, other than giving them free rein in the neighborhoods around town, and in some of those areas up to. three weeks, during the Caldor fire evacuation.

The phenomenon of urbanized black bears has been a relatively new thing over the past 15 years or so, not only at SLT, but also in Asheville, NC, Aspen, Colorado, Mammoth, Calif. And a few other places where black bear populations spend a large majority of their lives living in and near urbanized areas, especially in places that have an urban / wild interface.

What does the term “urbanized” mean in relation to black bears?

Well, black bears are extremely intelligent omnivorous / opportunistic eaters who can survive on a wide range of calorie sources, and we lazy humans have been more than complacent in providing them with the easiest calorie sources they can find. have ever obtained. Not only have we given them access to infinite calories easily obtained in minutes, as opposed to searching for natural calorie sources for hours and hours in their natural wild environment, we also provide this calorie source 52 weeks per year. ! So, the lure of easy calories attracted them and their high level of intelligence helped them thrive in this urban environment.

It also didn’t take them long to realize that under bridges or poorly secured / unsecured crawl spaces make wonderful protected and safe summer bedding or winter calving sites. In my experience, once a bear has used one of these spaces for bedding or den, others will use it as well and it becomes what I call a ‘Bear Bed and Breakfast’. We have several generations of local black bear sows that only nest and give birth in crawl spaces or under-protected bridges.

What have been the physiological and behavioral effects of the urbanization of black bears?

Physiologically, our local urbanized black bear population tends to be 25-35 percent larger / heavier than their wild cousins, often giving birth to three cubs as opposed to wild bears which give birth to one or more. -be two. Due to the easy access to calories 52 weeks a year, many of our urban black bears forgo total torpor (the proper term for how black bears winter) and actively feed throughout. Winter.

The behavior of the urbanized black bear is a very important factor because a behavior is not only learned, but is then taught to the future generation who then teaches it to theirs, and so on. Black bears with urbanized behavior have come to rely on unnatural food sources as their primary source of calories, have condensed their normal ranges, and have become much more comfortable around humans. They routinely and comfortably cross roads and highways, some actively moving through neighborhoods looking for unlocked car doors looking for attractives, and others looking for unlocked or open doors / windows / house sliders for attractants. A few have even increased it a level and break open the locked entrance doors to access (sometimes in the presence of humans) these houses and their attractants.

During the winter of 2020/21, I first discovered and documented two non-sibling male black bears weighing over 450 lbs taking refuge during the winter within 20 feet of each other. the same building, something that would never happen with wild black bears. The easy access to calories means there is no real competition for food sources between independent bears, and this summer I even documented three large males of different ages moving together in groups in a neighborhood stream area on several occasions.

The main factor affecting South Lake Tahoe, and Lake Tahoe in general, is that we have an unusually high black bear population density never seen before, and far greater than the natural holding capacity of a natural habitat. wild black bear.

In an ongoing study on black bear population density, I am assisting with a PhD from UC Davis. Candidate on, preliminary figures show that the low estimate of the black bear population density on the California side of Lake Tahoe is 2 or more black bears per square mile. To put that in perspective, the whole of Yosemite National Park has an estimated bear population density of 1 black bear per 2.3 square miles.

Unless we humans take a much more proactive approach to securing attractants and access to buildings, we are going to experience a continued escalation of human / bear conflict issues, with more property damage and even the possibility of injury. or death.

In a perfect world, the two states and the five counties of the Lake Tahoe Basin would institute and firmly enforce uniform top-down ordinances for waste management and waste storage by owner / residents. I urge any homeowner association to authorize curbside teddy bear storage boxes and any homeowner to install one.

Here is a link to a great interagency resource (USFS, CDFW, NDOW, TRPA, Cal State Parks) on how to visit or live in Bear Country:

– Toogee Sielsch is a Lake Tahoe bear advocate and often helps homeowners remove bears from crawl spaces and under bridges, or even “kick” them out from inside unoccupied homes. His work has been featured on television and in documentaries.

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