INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The recent uproar over the bear trap located on Matchless Court is a reminder to all property owners in the Lake Tahoe basin that we live in natural black bear habitat. The closer you are to a creek, lake or other body of water or being in proximity to National Forest Land means that you will likely encounter wildlife on a somewhat regular basis. Coyotes, bears and other creatures of the woods transit back and forth between the stream zones and up and down the mountainsides as part of their daily living habits.
The purpose of this column is to provide helpful information for property owners and visitors in Incline Village and Crystal Bay. It is not a commentary or critique of the recent events, as I do not have all of the facts concerning all of the parties involved with the bear trap ruckus. Rather, the goal this week is to provide some general guidance so that we can all enjoy the wildlife and live harmoniously with nature.
It was a chilly November day in 1978 when I entered Yosemite Valley for the first time. Snow was falling lightly and there was a dusting on the summit of El Capitan as the afternoon sun glistened on the face of the giant granite monolith. I set up camp in Upper Pines that evening and went to sleep, awakening the next morning to find bear tracks next to my tent. On my second night, a large bear removed the taillight from my car and proceeded to empty everything out of the trunk. This was before the days of bear boxes when proper food storage was considered to be out of sight in a locked vehicle.
After watching the bear rummage through my brand-new Fiat 128 sedan for 2 hours, a ranger came and shot a tranquilizer dart at the bear. But in those 2 hours the bear consumed all of the food I had brought for a five day camping trip. This was a very clever bear; he did not even break any part of the taillight, he simply removed the light in one piece. I learned a great lesson that day and have been fanatical about food storage not just when I go camping in the mountains, but in my everyday living at Lake Tahoe.
When you go hiking in the Mt. Rose wilderness which borders virtually all of the north side of Incline Village, you'll frequently find bear scat, scarred trees, and other evidence of the local bruins. This has been their natural habitat for eons. The Mt. Rose wilderness has very few trails and no real development of any kind. The lack of people regularly using vast stretches of this area allows the native animals to procreate and live happily close to human developments. Just as we've all learned to share the road with bicyclists, if we want to live in the woods we need to share the Lake Tahoe basin with the creatures that were here thousands of years before us.
The vast majority of bears in the Lake Tahoe basin forage naturally and are usually attracted to human food if we make mistakes and create temptations for them. Urbanized bears are created when they develop a taste for human food. These bears are relentlessly curious in their quest for goodies. While some things may seem inconvenient, it's imperative that everyone engage in certain practices to minimize negative encounters between bears and the human population. For starters, never leave anything in your car and always lock the doors. Bears mainly use scent to locate food, but when they are becoming urbanized they start to recognize shapes of things that are similar to food containers they have found in the past. A small empty box can look like a cooler and that tube of old suntan lotion under the seat has enough scent to attract them. Or their curiosity gets them tugging on doors and trunks.
Bird feeders, pet food left outside and barbecues on decks that have stairs leading straight to the ground, are all common things that can attract a bear to your property. Putting out your trash only on the day of pickup and not the night before is absolutely crucial. Absentee property owners especially should consider installing bear boxes to eliminate the problem of bears getting into trash on their property. It's no longer considered safe to store trash in your garage until pickup day. After eating chicken, fish or other food items that become odorous quickly, take the inedible remains and put them in a plastic bag in the freezer. That bag goes into the garbage on trash day, not before.
And please don't treat bears like big furry pets fawning over them. When you see a bear nearby don't call your friends together and take pictures. Make some noise, bang two pots together, toss a pine cone or a rock in its direction, and drive it away. Keep them wild; don't let bears become urbanized and comfortable around people. It takes diligence on the part of residents and visitors to stay “bear aware” so we can all live harmoniously with the creatures that make Lake Tahoe such a very special place.
— Don Kanare is a Realtor at RE/MAX Premier Properties. Read his blog and weekly stats on his website at www.InsideIncline.com.