Blonde vs.Bear Boosts Bear League Donations
By David Bunker
April 20, 2011 *Web Exclusive*
There is one small, abbreviated word in the title of Ann Bryant’s new Animal Planet television showthat still bothers her. Don’t be mistaken, Bryant likes just about everything that made it into the three-episode “Blonde vs. Bear” reality television show produced from footage taken throughout the summer of 2010. It’s just that one abbreviation —“vs.” — with all its adversarial connotations that belies Bryant’s deep love and fiercely passionate protection of Tahoe’s black bears.
“I guess they wanted it to be a little bit sensational,” said Bryant, founder of Tahoe nonprofit the Bear League.
After you watch portions of the show, you might excuse the television producers for their sensational titling. After all, Bryant roams the streets of Tahoe’s West and North shores wielding (at different times) a paint ball gun, a shotgun loaded with rubber bullets and an impressive set of flash-bang devices that explode like fireworks and clap like thunder. These are all tools of Bryant’s “tough love” approach to keeping bears wild, training them to fear humans, to stay away from garbage, and to live healthy wild lives even in proximity to vacation homes, campsites, and neighborhoods.
The program has been a hit with bear lovers across the country — many of whom are now calling the Bear League to pledge support to the West Shore nonprofit just as the organization enters its busy season. Bears awaking hungry after a long winter sleep are now foraging through the area for food, finding most meals still covered in snow, and seeking out neighborhoods to snack on unsecured trash or easily accessed garages or homes.
“We’ve been getting calls from all over the country from people who have seen it and really, really loved it,” said Bryant. “We’ve definitely seen a spike in support and of members joining.”
The Bear League currently has over 1,700 members and 200 trained volunteers who can respond to bear calls. Donations, as well as some grant money, make up the totality of the volunteer organization’s budget.
“We do appreciate the support from people a lot. We’d be dead in the water without it,” Bryant said.
Bryant knows her colorful personality helped the television show become a reality. She’s had confrontations with law enforcement over bear issues, yells at bears in a guttural growl, befriended a porcupine named Marvin, wears sunglasses without fail, and dresses in black from head to toe.
“They didn’t want somebody who was boring,” Bryant said.
Bryant initially lobbied the television channel to change the name to “Bear Defenders” to focus the program on the entire Bear League staff and not solely on her.
Over the summer, the Bear League volunteers forgot the cameras were rolling as they worked, said Brant. None of the footage was staged, said Bryant. The footage accurately depicts the organization’s work during summer, she said.
“None of it was acting. It was all real,” said Bryant. “There were no re-takes. There was no staging. I was insistent that it was true to life.”
Bear season begins
Few things affect a bear’s behavior more than the weather. Droughts dry up food. Big winters bury grasses and berries long into the spring. This winter, bears waking up will be greeted with a whole lot of white and very little green.
“They always wake up in March no matter how much snow there is,” said Bryant. “[This year] there is no green up. I knew it was going to be bad.”
A large black bear moved into one Incline Village home this spring, helping himself to everything in the refrigerator, everything in the cupboards and rooting through the home’s trash cans. By the time a passing Incline Village General Improvement District employee discovered the ransacked home on March 28, the bear had invited other house guests to share in the house party — including several squirrels and racoons.
While bears are less desperate to eat in the spring than they are in the fall when they are fattening up for winter, the bruins are still looking for any food they can get. Bryant said residents should be especially vigilant to lock up food and trash, and not to feel sorry for the bears.
If they are hungry enough they can dig up squirrel food caches, and find enough natural nourishment to last them until the low-elevation snow melts — at which point the forest should deliver a bonanza of bear food.
“When the snow melts we are hoping they are going to be able to find abundant food,” said Bryant. “There should be a good pine nut and berry crop because of all this winter’s moisture.”