Tahoe bears subject of state Capitol meeting: State Sen. Cox meets with residents, wildlife officials
Tahoe Basin residents plagued by escalating encounters with bears began a dialogue with state wildlife officials last week at a meeting in the California Capitol.
The spotlight was on Tahoe’s long, hot summer of bear break-ins at a meeting hosted by state Sen. Dave Cox at the request of Placer County Supervisor Bruce Kranz, whose district includes a portion of the Tahoe Basin. Joining the meeting were top officials with the California State Department of Fish and Game, Placer County and the Tahoe-based BEAR League, as well as two members of the Timberland Association of Home Owners, a West Shore neighborhood that has been the frequent target of foraging bears.
In interviews afterward, officials who participated described the meeting as a productive opportunity for open dialogue about the problem of bear break-ins and garbage feeding, and possible solutions.
Julie Oltmann, legislative representative at the Department of Fish and Game, said she noted an expression of strong interest on behalf of the elected officials to continue the discussion and not lose momentum. Sen. Cox said the situation requires continual attention and work to successfully move the bear population out of Tahoe’s residential neighborhoods.
“As I understand it, we have a bear problem in the Basin in large measure because the trash is not secured,” Cox said.
Supervisor Kranz said he thought it was productive to understand each agency’s perspective on the issue.
“Everybody wants to solve this problem,” Kranz said. “Nobody wants to kill bears.”
BEAR League Executive Director Ann Bryant came away from the meeting with a sense of achievement.
“The meeting was absolutely, thoroughly worthwhile and successful. And one of the most promising I’ve ever been to,” Bryant said. “And I’m not a meeting person.”
With 69 bears killed on Tahoe’s highways so far this year, and reported human encounters with bears higher than any time in the past 20 years, no one who attended denied that bears have become a nuisance around residential areas this year.
Large amounts of available garbage further exacerbates the problem by promoting reproduction. Put simply, bears are eating more and, consequently, giving birth to more cubs.
The solution starts with Tahoe residents tightening up their garbage control, officials said.
“We’ve got to just reduce the sources of food for these animals in these populated areas,” Oltmann said.
Officials discussed enforcing county ordinances that require bear-proof garbage bins, reinforcing Dumpster lids, employing different aversion techniques to discourage garbage feeding, and neighborhood watch programs.
“The Basin has become a literal bear buffet,” Bryant said. “The bears come in and they can find all they want.”
Officials also discussed coordinating and combining efforts. The Department of Fish and Game is severely understaffed throughout California, Senator Cox said. But the BEAR league said they have many volunteers.
“We’re more than happy to work with the league on these issues,” Oltmann said. “We don’t always agree on the best solution … we’re always happy to be part of a solution with anyone who’s interested in handling the issue.”
Bryant suggested the Department of Fish and Game, “step out, … and let us handle our bears.”
“I’m optimistic about the meetings with our county agencies,” she added. “I’m not about working with the Department of Fish and Game because I’ve been trying to do that for 10 years with no success. They do not work well with any other agency.”
Supervisor Kranz stressed that from the perspective of the county or the state, there is no “appetite to kill” the bears to curb break-ins.
“If it gets to a point where human lives are at risk, the whole discussion changes,” Kranz said. “But we’re not there.”
Kranz said he intends to continue the discussion with residents, agency officials and, in the future, El Dorado County officials.
“I was very grateful that so many of these agencies took this so seriously,” said Collier Cook, Kranz’s Tahoe field representative. “It was a great show of how important this really is to these people.”