People need to be educated about bears |

People need to be educated about bears

Don’t feed bears.

Don’t feed bears.

Don’t feed bears.

Don’t …

Get the picture yet?

Funny, you would think so, but no matter how many times officials remind people, many Lake Tahoe residents and visitors still don’t seem to realize the consequences of their actions.

“A fed bear is a dead bear,” said Carl Lackey, a wildlife biologist for the Nevada Division of Wildlife. “If people feed them, intentionally or not, they usually end up dead.”

A story appeared in a February issue of the Tahoe Daily Tribune about a 2-year-old cub being captured because he had awaken from hibernation and was wandering around neighborhoods. An anonymous caller left a message at the Tribune the day the story ran saying: “I know that cub wasn’t 2 years old yet. I know because I just fed him the other day!”

Lackey said he knows of people on the Nevada side of the basin who feed bears and coyotes, refusing to believe it causes a problem.

“Feeding a wild animal, whether it’s a bear or something else, does it more harm than good,” Lackey said. “As long as there are those kinds of people out there, we’re never going to win the war.”

Feeding bears can mean leaving food out for them or just not taking care of garbage, allowing them to get into it.

What’s the problem? Black bears are cute. So what if they come around; they’re nice to look at. And, despite their appearance – with muscular bodies, sharp teeth and claws – they generally aren’t dangerous.

Well, the problem is the animals become accustomed to the easy-to-get meals. They wander through neighborhoods with no fear of people. They can approach people, expecting food. They can damage houses or break into cars.

Last year, a bear in Incline Village tore through a fiberglass garage door, Lackey said. The next night, the same bear ripped through the siding of a nearby house, clawing through the Sheetrock. The only thing that stopped the bear was that he was too big to fit through the 16-inch spaces between the framing.

“If I don’t catch him and euthanize him, which is what I’ll do if I’m able to catch him, he’s going to end up getting hit on Highway 28 or shot inside someone’s house,” Lackey said.

Nevada Division of Wildlife killed a bear last fall that was captured near Kingsbury Grade.

She was a “three-time loser.” The division’s deterrent technique used to make bears again fear people – capturing the bear, tranquilizing it and, when releasing it, spraying it with pepper spray and shooting it with rubber bullets – had twice failed.

“That’s a perfect example of ‘a fed bear is a dead bear.’ People were throwing food out of their cars at her. Someone threw a whole watermelon at her. You can’t have bears approaching people. No matter what people think, they are potentially dangerous animals,” he said.

Another bear near Mt. Rose last year broke into a home and had to be killed.

Those were the only two bears killed on the Nevada side of the basin last year. Ken Nillson, of California Fish and Game, said he didn’t have an exact number on the California side but estimated it was less than 10. In 1997 three bears were killed in El Dorado County and four in Placer County. Not all of those occurred in the basin.

The deterrent technique is only a temporary fix. On the California side of the basin, because there are many more bears, the technique doesn’t work, Nillson said.

The long-term fix, everyone agrees, is education.

“We all live in the mountains. This is where the bears have lived for centuries,” said Cheryl Millham, executive director of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care. “Either clean up the garbage problem or you’ll have bears. They’re not going to kill all the bears at Tahoe just because you’re too lazy to take care of your garbage.”

Millham, who tries to educate people who call her wildlife care center inquiring about bear problems, said one family was barbecuing when a bear approached. They ran inside, and the animal ate their dinner.

“I told them he’ll be back. Bears have great memories, but they can be changed,” she said. “It has to be us who takes the food away.”

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