Students build homes for bears |

Students build homes for bears

Emily Aughinbaugh

Nestled between Lake Tahoe and Quail Lake in Homewood sit three new houses for West Shore bears, thanks to the work of young adults from around the world.

Nearly 30 high school and college students hiked an hour uphill in the sun Thursday to help the BEAR League build dens for bruins that hibernated too close to humans last winter.

“People would call me who were afraid or who were annoyed by a snoring bear under their house,” said BEAR League Director Ann Bryant. “If we set up some decent home sites for them, hopefully they’ll stay in their natural habitat and not go to the ski resorts and houses.”

Bryant said she was very impressed with the students’ willingness to help with the project. She said many didn’t even want to break for lunch at the thought of making the steep, dirty climb back up to the dens.

The group was a part of a weeklong leadership camp held at Squaw Valley for hundreds of 12- to 20-year-olds. Campers participated in a contribution day Thursday, working with service projects around the lake.

Students who picked the bear project shoveled out dirt and rock from under fallen, carved-out trees and picked up fallen pine limbs that served as den roofs.

The small dens were carved from a steep north slope of the ridge that hides Quail Lake from the Homewood Mountain Resort below.

Bryant said the bruins will be drawn to the dens because of the abundance of water, manzanita berries and acorns, all delicacies to black bears.

Most of the students, representing England, Australia and several states from across the country, had never seen a bear before and many had never hiked in the woods.

Looking at the sun glistening off Quail Lake, 17-year-old Toronto native Diana Beckmire remarked on the beauty of Tahoe.

“I think this is the equivalent to the west coast of Canada, with the beautiful scenery,” she said. “I’m from the city so I’m like, ‘Where’s the cab?’ “

Although the students may never see a bear in their hometowns, Bryant dispensed some tips right away.

She reinforced cartoon lore that bears really do like picnic baskets when she saw the stack of students’ lunch boxes full of chicken wraps, chips and cookies.

Some of the teens volunteered to guard the food but were a bit anxious about what to do if a bear actually showed up to eat.

Bryant went through aversion techniques such as throwing rocks and making noise, which she utilizes herself when dealing with a nuisance bear.

Bryant tries to educate the public about keeping trash locked up, because bears will only come around people if they know they’ll get fed.

Bryant has gone to the county governments for help. Douglas and Placer counties are considering ordinances that would require houses in bear-prevalent areas to use bear-proof trash cans.

BEAR League members and West Shore residents were saddened last year when the California Department of Fish and Game had to kill a mother and her two cubs who were breaking into houses for chocolate.

Two other bears were killed last summer by Fish and Game because they had been fed by humans, according to the BEAR League.

“We really should give something back to these guys,” league member Jan Klein said. “With this project, the bears will have their new dens and the people can have their dens. Everybody will be happy.”

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