ALPINE MEADOWS, Calif. — The issue of humans living peacefully among the established black bear population at Lake Tahoe has surfaced again after a bruin was trapped and killed last week because it reportedly damaged a home upon entering it through an open window.
The sub-200-pound female bear with light brown fur entered an Alpine Meadows home early last week and caused “verifiable property damage,” said Jason Holley, supervising wildlife biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game.
There were two people in the house at the time of the incident, Holley said, although no one was hurt. The homeowner later contacted Fish and Game and requested a Depredation Permit, which says a certain bear can be killed if it does damage to property.
In this instance, a Fish and Game wildlife biologist issued the permit to the homeowner after assessing the damage, Holley said. A trap was placed near the property on Wednesday, June 25, and the same bear was eventually trapped and killed, Holley said.
Normal routine, Holley said, is for a biologist to assess the property and also weigh certain “confounding factors” to determine if a permit is needed.
“We look at things like how secure is the place, are there any measures to put in place to prevent future dangers, were there people there when the bear was there,” Holley said in a Tuesday phone interview. “In this case, we had actual damage, and we had the bear entering an occupied dwelling, which makes it even an easier permit to write.”
Furthermore, there is no law requiring residents to keep windows closed, Holley said in an email, although Fish and Game “often recommends this when leaving your property unattended.”
The biologist's decision to issue the permit was frowned upon this week by neighbors and the BEAR League, the nonprofit bear-awareness group based in Homewood.
The bear — which had come to be known by locals as “Butterscotch” — was highly revered, said BEAR League President Ann Bryant, due to its abnormally light-colored fur, and had even been thought of as a “spirit bear” by members of the Washoe Tribe.
News of the incident spread quickly through social media this week, namely through the BEAR League's Facebook page, which features more than 200 comments and more than 160 shares of the League's post on the matter.
“This bear was so well known and she was not dangerous at all; people knew how gentle she was,” Bryant said Thursday, adding that the situation likely could have been avoided if the homeowner had simply closed the window. “(Fish and Game's) policy clear states that before a permit is issued, all avoidance tactics should be incorporated. Isn't simply closing a window a pretty easy avoidance tactic?”
Around Lake Tahoe, incidents of bears entering and leaving homes through open windows and doors is common, Bryant said, and nearly all homeowners have adapted to living in the mountains with bears and are fine with that. That apparently wasn't the case last week, she said.
“It's too bad they didn't do what they needed to do to avoid the problem,” Bryant said.
According to California law, Fish and Game's black bear policy generally follows a three-step tract.
The first step is when someone sees a bear walking near or on his or her property. Simple bear education and awareness, including how to handle garbage and how to scare the bear by making loud noises, is given to the person who makes the call. The second step involves a bear becoming more curious.
“This is when a bear comes around and gets into things, like trash or testing doors, but no actual damage is done,” Holley said in a previous story. “From there we recommend people escalate their level of harassment, like throw rocks at (the bear), to let it know it is unwelcome.”
The third step is the request of a Depredation Permit. Diversion techniques, or “bear education” techniques, such as shooting bears with non-lethal slug or trapping and releasing them, are not practiced in California.