Bear totals vehicle in South Lake Tahoe after becoming trapped inside
Limiting bear encounters
Tips for safe-guarding residences:
Purchase, store all trash in, and properly close bear-resistant garbage containers.
Freeze strong-smelling leftovers, such as fish, until trash day to reduce the smell.
Wait to put trash out until the morning of collection day.
Keep garbage cans clean and deodorize them with bleach or ammonia.
Don’t leave trash, groceries, or animal feed in your car.
Keep barbecue grills clean and stored in a garage or shed when not in use.
Refrain from putting out bird feeders from April through October.
Don’t leave any scented non-food products outside (or in your car), such as suntan lotion, lip balm, insect repellent, toothpaste, soap or candles.
Keep doors and windows closed and locked when the home is unoccupied.
Consider installing motion-activated outdoor lights, sprinklers and alarms, as well as electric fencing.
Harvest fruit off trees as soon as it is ripe, and promptly collect all fruit that falls.
Securely block access to potential hibernation sites, such as crawl spaces under decks and buildings.
Vegetable gardens, compost piles, orchards and chickens may attract bears. Use electric fences to keep bears out.
Tips for safe-guarding your campsite against a bear encounter:
Never feed wildlife.
Always store food (including pet food), drinks, toiletries, coolers, cleaned grills, cleaned dishes, cleaning products, and all other scented items as soon as possible after use in the bear-resistant containers (storage lockers) provided at your campsite.
Clean the barbecue grill after each use and store properly.
Always place trash in bear-resistant dumpsters in campground or in bear-resistant containers at your campsite and close and lock after each use.
Never leave scented items unattended in your campsite, tent, or car.
Never leave trash at your campsite
These tips were provided by a collaborative agency effort that includes California State Parks, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Nevada Department of Wildlife, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, and the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
Those living in bear country know it’s never a good idea to leave food in a vehicle. However, it’s fairly common that people forget how even a slight scent — when combined with unlocked doors — can lead a curious bear to rummage through a car, and do quite a bit of damage in the process.
It is a reminder a former longtime area resident received earlier this week while house sitting for some friends off of Tahoe Vista Drive in South Lake Tahoe.
“Hopefully this will be a reminder,” said Anne Grogan, a Reno resident who previously lived in the Truckee-Tahoe area for decades.
As Grogan explained, she had just returned from the grocery store on Tuesday afternoon and lugged a load of groceries into her friends’ home. She left one bag, which appeared to be filled with cleaning supplies including trash bags and vinegar, behind.
However, Grogan would later learn that there was a single can of fish buried toward the bottom of the bag. With her hands filled with grocery bags, she had forgotten to lock the car door.
Around 7 p.m. she heard the car horn and went outside assuming it was some obnoxious teenagers messing with her car. What she found was a young bear trapped inside the vehicle.
“He tore the airbags … tore the wiring,” Grogan said in detailing just some of the damage done to her SUV, which despite appearing completely fine from the outside, was declared totaled due to the interior damage.
Such incidents are common in bear country.
“That’s happened thousands of times,” said Ann Bryant, executive director of the BEAR League, a not-for-profit organization based in the Tahoe Basin that seeks to better educate the public about bears.
Bryant added that a similar incident happened in her neighborhood just the other day. The difference is when the door closes behind them, which does happen frequently, the bears feels trapped and can do a good deal of damage once it realizes it cannot get out the way it came in.
Bears can easily open unlocked car doors, Bryant said, and their interest can be piqued by sights and smells that most people would not think appeal to bears.
“Bears can walk by a car and even if they just see a grocery bag that’s enough to tempt them,” according to Bryant.
And it doesn’t have to be obvious perpetrators such as groceries or leftovers. Fruit-scented air fresheners and chapstick can lead a curious and hungry bear to try and enter the car.
As Bryant said, there are two easy and basic steps to take to mitigate the chance of having a bear ransack your vehicle. The first is to try and remove all food and food-like items from the vehicle. The second is to make sure the doors are locked.
“It’s much more rare,” Bryant said of a bear breaking into a locked vehicle. “It’s almost always a car that was left unlocked.”
Despite the education efforts, incidents involving bears rummaging through cars will likely continue to be a problem especially with the summer tourism season on the horizon.
“It happens all the time during the summertime when the visitors are up here … we probably get 20 or 30 calls a day, and that’s just the people that call us,” Bryant said.
The prevalence of summer conflicts led multiple government agencies to issue a reminder earlier this week about the importance of properly storing food and trash.
For Grogan, who says she knows the ropes when it comes to living in bear country, the incident was an unfortunate and costly sequence of seemingly small mistakes.
“I inadvertently failed to lock my car and inadvertently left the can of [fish] in the car.”