‘The Backyard Bear’: Tahoe resident spends summer capturing footage for documentary
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Tahoe residents are all too familiar with the black bears that inhabit the basin. A lot of time and resources are spent educating visitors and new residents about how to live and act around bears and, most importantly, how and why to secure trash.
Riley McClaughry, 21, wanted to help paint a clearer picture of the impacts humans are having on bears so he spent six months following bears for his recently released documentary, The Backyard Bear.
McClaughry grew up in Sacramento and visited Lake Tahoe with his family often.
In 2020, he moved to the area. His family lives in Truckee where he’ll spend about half of his time, the other half of the time he lives in a van, traveling around the basin.
“After high school, I moved to Tahoe and I dove head first into the Tahoe lifestyle of adventure and the outdoors,” McClaughry said.
He started photography and videography when he was 14 and originally focused on adventure sports. He eventually decided to tie those talents in with his love of animals.
“Once I moved to Tahoe in 2020, I saw [the bear] problem first-hand with the trash, since then, I’ve wanted to make a difference with the bears and all the wildlife I come across in my adventures,” McClaughry said.
The documentary features incredible footage of bears in nature, mother bears teaching their young and sadly, but more importantly for the film, getting into trash.
“I started spending every second, every ounce of energy into tracking bears, finding them out in the woods and learning their behavior throughout the town and their routine of each dumpster they would hit,” McClaughry said. “I think I clocked in about 57 or so full days of filming from June to the end of the fall.”
The first few weeks were spent mostly sitting around and hiking in nature, waiting to find bears. As the process went on, McClaughry said he got to know certain bears and their habits, allowing him to anticipate when and where they would be.
Footage was taken all over the Tahoe area from a family of bears in Truckee to the salmon run in South Lake Tahoe.
While the documentary features some up-close footage of the bears, McClaughry made sure to keep his distance. The point of the film was to show the bears in their natural habitat and exhibiting their natural behavior.
“Some of the bears that were getting into trash cans … a lot of that stuff was at nighttime so it required me to user wider angle lenses so I could get more light in. So in some of those situations I was a little closer and also I was in my car, shooting out of a window so I had the safety of the car,” McClaughry said.
While black bears rarely have aggressive interactions with humans, they will protect their food and their young if necessary. He learned the signs of stress and aggression so he knew when to give them space.
After spending so much time with the bears, he felt like he really got to know them. A family of bears in Truckee featured in the first scene really stood out.
“They spent all of their time in nature, foraging for food … I probably spent 6 or 7 days with them,” McClaughry said. “Plus the mom was really skinny, she might have had some health issues going on which made me connect with them even more and love them on a deeper level.”
He hopes to see them this spring looking bigger and healthier.
He also had another moment during the filming process that stuck out to him. He was at his family’s house in Truckee, disappointed after a day of unsuccessful footage and van issues, when a family walked through his backyard.
“They found me when I was stuck at the house and I couldn’t go anywhere,” McClaughry said. He followed them on his bike to an apartment complex where they found a pond to play in.
“That was a really cool moment that I got to capture. It felt like all the time and effort that I was putting into going and searching for the bears, I was getting rewarded with this encounter because they came to where I was,” McClaughry added.
McClaughry is working on several other non-bear documentaries but he also hopes to follow-up this film, with another one about the impacts of humans on bears. He is hoping his film gets a lot of views and helps spark change.
To view the film, visit https://rileymcclaughrymedia.com.
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