Organizations urge residents, new and old, to coexist with wildlife

An influx of new residents moving to the area from the pandemic had the phone ringing off the hook this summer and fall at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care and Bear League.

After reports of people threatening to gun down bears in a neighborhood, people shooting squirrels with BB guns and coyote with an arrow stuck in its side, local organizations are urging new residents to become educated about Tahoe’s wildlife especially as bears come out of hibernation.

Living in the basin means living alongside wildlife that are native to the area and as spring approaches, more bears will be coming out of their long hibernation in search of food.

While many bears are still awaking from the long slumber, some never sleep. Access to trash has created an adaptation of local bear’s hibernation patterns as trash creates a food source all winter long, but for the ones that do still hibernate, they will be hungry.

“Black Bears in the Tahoe Basin are a unique group and have grown accustomed to living with us in their forest home,” said Jenny Curtis, animal care manager at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care. “It is our responsibility to live in harmony with all of our wildlife neighbors.”

Denise Upton, animal care director at LTWC, said there has been an influx of new homeowners that are not accustomed with living with wildlife, but she hopes to get the community up to speed.

A West Shore bear that has just come out from his winter's nap. The bear has lived his entire life within the West Shore communities of Homewood and Tahoma. <em id="emphasis-680da88d65c8ac5390d55b6b263c313f">Provided / Larry Ferguson </em>

Executive Director of the West Shore based nonprofit Bear League, Ann Bryant says that in the past year, it was “mind-boggling” how many calls they received.

She said she dealt with several frustrated new residents that called to have wildlife “removed” for walking across residential yards.

One resident who was new to the area was even spreading d-Con rat poison which is harmful to non-targeted animals around their yards.

“It’s case after case,” said Bryant. “Most of the locals know better than that, they love seeing wildlife run across their yard. But, there are many people that haven’t taken the time to get educated.”

Bryant said it was encouraging to see a few new residents reach out who were interested in learning more about local wildlife and volunteering. Bryant says she hopes to see more interested in getting involved with the community.

“There has been an attitude of ‘separateness’ coming into our neighborhoods,” said Bryant. “Longtime locals and longtime second homeowners really appreciate living with wildlife and we are really hoping our new neighbors will learn to also appreciate the wildlife.”

Black Bears are the only bears that currently reside in Lake Tahoe and despite their colors ranging from blonde to coal black, they are not grizzly or brown bears.

Male and the 2-year-old bears are the first to emerge from their winter dens and as the weather continues to warm; mothers, yearling cubs and new babies will begin to emerge.

During the seasonal process of hibernation, bears lose about a third of their body weight, so they quickly begin the search for food after coming out of hibernation.

Traditionally, bears would seek out grasses, roots and shoots as their first source of natural food out of hibernation. However, as humans have moved into their natural ecosystem, they have grown accustomed to the reliability of trash.

LTWC and Bear League are asking help from the community —both new and existing residents — to help persuade the bears to stay away from trash and return to eating their natural food sources.

With excellent memory, black bears have the ability to remember, so it is imperative to teach bears to not associate trash with food.

“It is our responsibility to teach and remind our neighborhood bears of acceptable behavior in our forest home,” Curtis said.

LTWC offers tips to be prepared

– Obtain bear resistant trash containers.

– Refrain from putting any trash outside, unsecured until the morning of trash pick up day.

– If you store trash in a garage, keep it as far away from all doors as possible.

– Rinse containers of any smell that might attract bears before disposing them in the trash.

– Keep food scraps in a separate, sealed bag until trash day.

– Add a small amount of ammonia to each trash bag before sealing.

– Do not store trash or pet food near an outside door in your house.

– Do not feed or store pet food in the garage.

– Keep all food cleaned up and out of your vehicle in addition to chapstick, lotions, gum, and anything with a scent.

– Keep car windows rolled up and doors locked when not occupied.

– Don’t leave doors unlocked even if there is nothing in the vehicle, if bears get inside, they can do thousands of dollars worth of damage trying to get out and also reinforces the bear that its okay to open vehicle doors.

– Keep house doors and windows closed and locked at night.

– Keep garage refrigerators and freezers clean of any spills or rotting smells.

— It’s a good time to put away bird feeders

LTWC wants to remind residents that it is against the law to lure or harass any wildlife.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s California Code of Regulation Title 14, section 251.1 states “No person shall harass, herd or drive any game or nongame bird or mammal or furbearing mammal. For the purposes of this section, harass is defined as an intentional act which disrupts an animal’s normal behavior patterns, which includes, but is not limited to breeding, feeding or sheltering”.

This regulation is punishable as a misdemeanor.

LTWC is also asking people to not take “selfies” or close photos with bears.

“Black bears will not attack humans, unless cornered or provoked, usually in an attempt to get away,” said Curtis.

Curtis also stressed that black bears will not eat your pets.

Along with keeping your distance with wildlife, LTWC is urging drivers to slow down around town. There were 15 bears hit and killed in South Lake Tahoe in 2020.

There were three other cubs that were hit, but were able to stay with their mother and two cubs that needed surgery and ended up not being able to return to their mothers who now reside at LTWC.

Four more adult bears were hit, but were unable to be treated and two adult bears have already been hit on Lake Tahoe Blvd this year.

“Bears live here and always have,” Bryant said. “Bears and humans can coexist easily. This is what it is like living in nature, you can’t take the wild out of wilderness.”

Bryant urges anyone who has any questions or concerns to reach out at any time of day to Bear League or LTWC.

LTWC can be reached at 530-577-2273 and Bear League can be reached at 530-525-7297.

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