To tame the black bear, we must become grizzlies
Is everyone as ready as I am for the bears to take a nap? This past season has been the most difficult and exasperating since the BEAR League was founded over six years ago. We had more bears going into homes (and cars) in more neighborhoods than ever before (Note: Every single bear who entered a home was eventually verified as having been fed or made welcome at that or someone else’s house).
It was falsely argued that by recommending bear-proof garbage enclosures we had created a monster. It was said that the bears began to starve to death and had no other option but to go inside and raid refrigerators. Think about it now, how many skinny bears have you seen around Tahoe? It’s quite the opposite; our bears far outweigh black bears from any other area in North America. They are not starving.
So why are they entering houses so boldly, almost as though they feel they have the right to do so? Because they have been made to feel welcome. I don’t mean we all necessarily stood at the open door and said, “Come on in, Bear. Follow me to the kitchen.” No, we weren’t quite so obvious, but to the bears what we did, and continue to do, made exactly the same statement.
We have tamed the bears. We have allowed them to feel completely at home wandering around our yards, sitting on our decks, peering into our windows, eating our birdseed and pet food, and going in and out of our garages. So why should they think they don’t belong in our homes?
Let’s quick take a look back into the past in order to understand how these bears came to the above conclusions. When the European people first came to populate the West there were grizzly bears living in this whole area, far outnumbering the elusive black bears. The grizzly was the ‘King of the Jungle’ so to speak. Next in the pecking order were the Indians and finally, the meek and submissive black bear. The first step to ‘House Bears’ was the killing of all the grizzlies.
Our second step to refrigerator-raiding bears was to obliterate the ideologies of the Indians who had lived comfortably with and understood the black bears for millennia. The Washoe people shared the abundance of the forest with the bears. They understood that the black bears would not hurt them and ‘spoke’ to them about respecting the boundaries where the Indians had their summer settlements.
The third step towards taming our bears (and this is the one we, ourselves, have to take full ownership of) started when we changed the rules and no longer expected them to respect our boundaries. Remember when just 10 years ago, it was rare to see a bear? And certainly never in broad daylight. Then slowly they began to appear more and more and some people thought that meant there were more of them. There aren’t, they just aren’t hiding from us anymore. These past few years our actions have made a loud and clear announcement to the bears “You are welcome here. You don’t need to be afraid of us, we won’t hurt you.” We positively cannot do this anymore! We have to act like dominant grizzly bears. The black bears evolved expecting something/someone to hold this position. Since everything and everybody who did so is gone, thanks to us, we now have to do it.
We absolutely must tell our bears that we are a mean, grouchy, ornery species and we do not share our dens (houses) or our home territory (yards) with anyone, especially them. We can no longer talk baby-talk to them when we see them on our decks. Everyone has to yell and screech as obnoxiously as you can when a bear comes near your house. No one can put any food out that they can get, absolutely nothing. We all have to keep our windows and doors protected while we are away from the house and get advice on how to discourage them from wanting to enter. We have to stop running and hiding under the bed when a bear stands at our front door trying to get in. Rather, we have to pound hard on the door and growl and yell as loud as we can and as soon as he turns to run we then open the door and throw a rock right at his fat retreating rear end.
Call the BEAR League for coaching on how to be the dominant animal on your property. We all have to step into the empty shoes (paws?) of the grizzly bear. Our black bears will understand and soon will behave accordingly. It takes all of us, all the time. Please help us teach our bears the rules. We can be reached at (530) 525-PAWS (7297) or at email@example.com.
– Ann Bryant is executive director for the Homewood-based BEAR League.