Minimizing Encounters with the Sierra’s Black Bears

It’s official: we’re entering bear season in the Sierra. It’s mid-March, the weather is warming up, robins and stellar jays are chirping and bear sightings are being reported on an almost daily basis – yep, spring is definitely here. But the relationship between humans and our resident black bears can be a touchy subject in the Sierra, from ethical arguments regarding a right to live in one’s natural habitat to arguments about liberty; that one shouldn’t have to pay any extra costs just because a bear might grow accustomed to visiting open garages with available trash food. The subject is particularly pertinent now, as the first bears to make their way out of hibernation are typically young bears that may have been taught by their mothers that human garbage is the most delectable meal around.

COMM SC BlogImage2 bear 2014 03Incline Village, NV is currently grappling with whether to make wildlife-resistant trash containers mandatory for both commercial businesses and residents. The law was brought up in the wake of ever-increasing human-bear conflicts in the community, including an instance where a bear was recently euthanized because residents had been feeding the wild animal until it was no longer weary of humans. This past Wednesday, the vote on the law was delayed with plans to revisit it when the community’s new General Manager comes into office. At this point there is no timeline for when that vote will actually happen.

Those opposed to the law believe that the town would be placing undue hardships on residents and business owners with an increase in monthly trash-collecting costs. It should be noted though that a study done in the Lake Tahoe basin in 2004 found that reactive deterrents, such as rubber buckshot, being chased by dogs, or pepper spray, do little to keep bears from revisiting a place where they’ve previously found food. The best method for success in minimizing bear-human encounters is a blend of ordinances such as the one being considered in Incline Village, combined with education and actions brought on by the two: keeping garage doors closed, car doors locked, and all food sources, including garbage, out of the reach of bears.

A recent study conducted in Yosemite National Park compared bear diets dating all the way back to 1915. The study underscored that management practices such as keeping food and trash locked down are effective in minimizing the amount of human food consumed by bears, and thus limit the number of bears entering campsites, cars, or residences in search of a meal.

However you view bear encounters, the reality is that these mountains are just as much their home as they are ours. It is our responsibility to do what we can to minimize the number of bears who have to be euthanized as a direct result of human behavior. Thus, as we gear up for bear season, please be sure to do your best to keep tempting human treats out of the reach of our furry neighbors.

Images courtesy of Bob Asquith