Sierra Sun header

Lake Tahoe bear season down, but maybe not out

Compared to two years ago, 2009 has been a slow bear season — but moving forward, that might not be the norm

By Annie Flanzraich                                                                                                          Wednesday, September 9, 2009

black bear
LAKE TAHOE — It's been a roller coaster of bear activity for California officials this summer. What began as a slow spring with plenty of natural forage and water has escalated and then declined in the past three months.

“It's not a lot of bears causing a lot of problems, it's a handful of bears causing significant problems,” said Jason Holley, a wildlife biologist with California Fish and Game.

Holley estimates he received 300 phone calls about bear activity this summer, and that doesn't include phone calls made directly to the DFG bear line.

Troublesome bears have broken into homes and trash cans around the California side of the lake, Holley said. Some bear hotspots include Alpine Meadows, Christmas Valley in South Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay, Fallen Leaf Lake, Timberland and even Kings Beach, Holley said.

“The number of bears feeling comfortable opening unlocked doors and windows and entering homes is on the rise,” said Bear League Executive Director Ann Bryant. “They have learned how to turn door knobs if they are not locked and they have learned to go from house to house to check for windows that are not locked.”

DFG issued between 15 and 20 depredation permits this year, and about half resulted in a bear's death, Holley said.

A good crop of Manzanita berries slowed bear activity about three weeks ago, that is changing, Holley said.

“With bears it's kind of like one bad apple can spoil the bunch,” Holley said. “One bear becomes habituated and it's hard for him to come back to the woods even when berries are out.”

The Bear League reports that 22 bears have been hit by cars this summer on the California side of the lake — four survived. In 2008, the league reported 28 bears were killed in car incidents in both California and Nevada.

By locking up trash, doors and windows, locals and visitors can help keep bear activity at bay in developed areas, Bryant said.

“Their intelligence level and their ability to evolve around our irresponsibility continues to amaze me,” Bryant said.

In Nevada

On the Nevada side of the lake, a slower economy and wet spring helped keep bears at bay, said Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist Carl Lackey.

“Overall it has been a very slow season,” Lackey said.

A wet spring helped grow an abundance of grasses, forbes and berries in upper elevations for the bears to forage, while a slower tourist season kept Dumpsters at bay, Lackey said.

Since January Lackey has dealt with 26 bears — either to trap, tag or kill. Of the 26, 19 were trapped and released, three were hit by cars, two were killed for public safety reasons and one bear was killed for being persistent and extremely bold in a residential area. One bear died of unknown reasons.

Compared to 2007, when Lackey came in contact with 26 bears in less than one month, 2009 is shaping out to be a slow year. So far, he's received 154 calls about bears this year.

“We're not even going to hit 200 this year,” he said.

In 2007, NDOW received about 1,500 bear related calls.

The Incline Village General Improvement District's trash containment and bear awareness program has helped slow bear activity in the North Lake Tahoe community, Lackey and Bryant said.

“We believe the local people are doing a fantastic job on helping solve the problem,” Bryant said. “Our situation seems to remain a problem due to the fact that we have so many visitors who are unaware of their responsibilities when they enter bear habitat.”

Since 2008 was also a slow year for bear activity, some bear cubs may be learning to forage in the forest instead of in trash cans — a good sign for future bear populations.

“If these cubs learn bad habits there is a decent chance they will continue those bad habits,” Lackey said. “If they learn good habits they will pass those on.”

However, bear activity can be at the whim of the weather, Lackey said.

“This can change at the drop of a hat,” he said. “If we get a dry winter and a dry spring I am looking at 1,000 complaints. It's really related to climatic conditions.”

Back to top