Agency tags bears to create DNA database

Staff Report
A black bear jumps out of a trash dumpster in Steamboat Springs.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — As the Lake Tahoe Basin’s black bears emerge from their winter slow-down and slumber, campground managers, biologists, park rangers and wildlife officers hope to have a new tool at their disposal to help manage the human-bear conflicts certain to arise this spring and summer: a growing catalogue of Tahoe’s bear population.

Since the fall of 2019, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and California State Parks have teamed up to trap, tag and haze as many Tahoe bears as possible to identify individual bears, build a genetic database of the population, study its overall health, and whether related bears are passing down problem behaviors from one generation to the next. Eighteen bears have been trapped to date – four of those being recaptured. Genetic material is collected and each bear is outfitted with an identifying ear tag before release.

According to Shelly Blair, CDFW’s wildlife biologist for El Dorado and Alpine counties, tagging the bears does two things. First, it allows them to identify individual bears since they all look very similar and secondly, it helps them track their movements.

“So, we’ve had animals in one area travel a few miles to a different area and start causing problems somewhere else,” Blair said in a video recorded for CDFW’s website.

Genetic material is collected and each bear is outfitted with an identifying ear tag before release. While the bear is immobilized, they take blood, hair and saliva samples.

DNA collected from “crime scenes,” like a broken window or opened ice boxes, can tell CDFW if they’ve handled that bear before.

Blair added that the bears in the basin do not act like normal wildland bears because they’ve learned that trash can be a regular source of food. Scientists suspect that bears are teaching trash finding behaviors to their cubs.

So, a DNA database also allows them to see if bears that are related are exhibiting similar trash seeking behaviors.

In May, CDFW broadened the effort and teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service to trap, tag and haze additional bears within the Tahoe National Forest. The trapping takes place in short windows during the early spring and late fall off-seasons at Tahoe-area campgrounds. The bears are hazed – but not harmed – upon release to provide a negative human interaction and to see whether the experience will keep them away from campgrounds and people in the future.

Hazing involves loud noises and firing non-lethal projectiles at the bears, including paintballs and bean bags.

To watch the full video, visit



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