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Education key to survival

BEAR League teaches how to deal with unwanted guests

By Jill Bauerle
October 11, 2006

Among the black bears living in the Lake Tahoe basin, Ann Bryant has a reputation as a formidable - though friendly - opponent.

During an encounter last week with a mother bear and her two cubs, the mother bear who bluff-charged her ended up in a tree, crying.

"You have to act like a bear," said Bryant, describing the proper way to respond when a bear trespasses onto a property. Bearish is not an adjective that comes to mind during a human-to-human encounter with Bryant. Standing at about five feet, six inches tall with long blonde hair, she smiles warmly as she speaks about her passion for wildlife.

As the executive director of the BEAR League of Lake Tahoe, Bryant has devoted the last eight years to educating the public about black bears, the only type of bear currently living in California and Nevada. Residents with bear trouble can call the league's hotline 24 hours a day and a trained volunteer will come to their house. The league figures that about 400 bears live in the area between the Tahoe basin and Truckee. Volunteers know some of them by name.

Tahoe black bear
Courtesy of Carl Gustafson

Fall marks the season when black bears are out 20 hours a day, fattening up before hibernation. Shy and lazy, they are not aggressive when it comes to defending their cubs and will climb trees when scared. The BEAR League of Lake Tahoe recommends that residents in areas frequented by bears use bear-proof garbage cans.


Submitted photo - Oliver

"We've demonized them so much, people have it locked in their head that these animals are out to kill them," said Bryant, adding that black bears are often confused with the more aggresive grizzly. "They don't realize that they're in their yard because they want to eat the birdseed."

Bryant estimates that the league gets 50 to 100 calls per day. Questions range from how to behave when encountering bears in the woods to how to get a bear out of a crawl space.

As fall approaches and bears prepare for hibernation by looking for food 20 hours a day, local residents should be aware of bear behavior and not panic when a black bear wanders on their property during daylight hours, said Bryant. They should also seal up all underfloor spaces beneath their homes that might attract a hibernating bear.

Black bears are actually very shy and lazy, said Bryant. They are attracted to garbage, birdseed, pine cones, berries, and even fruit-scented air fresheners hanging from a car's rearview window.

The BEAR League recommends that residents who spot bears in their neighborhood use bear-proof garbage containers. The special containers, constructed out of metal or resin, are resistant to bear claws and require a wrench to open them.

If a bear approaches your property, respond by using body language and vocalizations that the bears will understand.

"Be aggressive," said Bryant. "Be dominant. Don't run and hide under the bed. That's saying to the bear, 'Okay, you can be here.'"

Seeing a bear in the woods-his own territory-requires the opposite reaction. Bryant recommends talking gently to the animal while backing away, and making quick eye contact. Staring at the animal sends them a message that you're going to attack.

Two bears - getting into a dumpster

The BEAR League of Lake Tahoe recommends that residents
who live in areas frequented
by bears use bear-proof
garbage cans.

BEAR League volunteers

The Union photo/Jill Bauerle Volunteers from the Tahoe
Bear League gather at the Save Lake Tahoe
Stewardship Day Saturday,
from left to right:
Winnie Smith, Ted Guzzi,
Sherry Guzzi, Joel Avery,
Susan Bailey, Kent Edwards, Ann Bryant (holding Marvin,
her pet porcupine.)

And if a bear starts huffing and blowing and standing on its hind legs, it might be preparing for a bluff charge. Rarely do bears follow through with a charge, according to Bryant. She has been charged numerous times, and has never been hurt. Usually they will turn away before they reach you, she said, or run past and climb a tree.

To learn more about the BEAR League, go to: .

To contact Staff Writer Jill Bauerle, e-mail jillb@theunion .com
or call 477-4219.

Bear hints

Never feed bears.

Bears climb trees when frightened and will not climb down if dogs or humans are present.

Loud noises made by radios, whistles or pots and pans can scare away bears.

Bears are attracted by garbage, sweet smells, pet food, baby diapers, bird feeders, food odors, lotions, toothpaste and garden compost. Inspect your property and remove anything that might attract bears.

Do not feed pets outside. Keep pet food in airtight containers, in a room closed to the outdoors.

Lightly spray Pine Sol into every garbage bag, and rinse out all garbage containers.

Keep your car doors locked and windows rolled up. Bears can use their claws to open car doors and break windows. Don't keep food in your car or use fruit-scented air fresheners.

If you come home and find a bear in your house, open all of the doors, get out of the bear's way, and start yelling and throwing things in the bear's direction.

source: BEAR League

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