Bear Naked Truth

Goings-on with black bears in the Tahoe Basin and beyond

  • March 20, 2023

In January, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) jointly announced their formal partnership with the national nonprofit BearWise, which was developed by leading black bear biologists to provide resources, information and consistent, science-based messaging on how to minimize black bear conflicts. CDFW subsequently reached out to BearWise to ask the organization to introduce itself to the Lake Tahoe community along with others around the state interested in black bear issues. What follows is a guest post by Linda Masterson, communications and marketing director for The National BearWise Program and author of the Living with Bears Handbook. Meet BearWise.

By Linda Masterson

If bears could read, we wouldn’t need BearWise®.

Bears excel at acting in what they perceive are their best interests: finding food, finding shelter, finding mates, raising their cubs, coexisting with each other. But they have no clue that avoiding people and people places would be in their long-term best interests.

But if bears could read, they would quickly learn that taking advantage of all those human-provided food sources carries risks that are far greater than any short-term reward. Bears are super-smart, resourceful and adaptable. They’d decide that no matter how tempting it was, staying far away from people was the wise thing to do.

Bears are exceptional mothers; they would immediately start teaching their cubs how to make a living off the natural landscape instead of how to scoot through pet doors into kitchens full of people food and bring the goodies back out to share. Or what night the unprotected trash goes out in which subdivision. Which dumpsters are easy to get into. Where to find a bird feeder full of seed or a yard full of chickens and bees. Which streets are lined with pretty trees that produce fruit that we don’t eat, but bears do. And which of the human neighbors put out a bear buffet of treats and then sit back and enjoy the bear show.Stash & Latch Your Trash BearWise sticker

Since almost all conflicts with bears are caused by people inadvertently or purposefully attracting them, in a generation or two (of bears, not people) conflicts would fade into memories of the bad old days. Bear biologists and managers could finally focus on studying bear biology and behavior, preserving the habitat bears need to live off the land and doing everything in their power to ensure bear populations are healthy and thriving today, tomorrow and always.

People could live in and visit bear country knowing they’re doing their part to keep people safe and bears wild. All while enjoying the occasional privilege of glimpsing a bear in the woods going about the business of being a wild bear.

Unfortunately, bears can’t read. And people are more complicated and less adaptable than bears. That’s why we need BearWise.

What makes BearWise different? The BearWise program was started several years ago by 15 states in the Southeast. Other states soon saw the benefit of being part of a program that guaranteed that no matter where people lived or traveled in bear country, they got the same consistent, science-based message about living with bears. Today, BearWise is managed by a national team of bear biologists and wildlife communications professionals and supported by 34 member state wildlife agencies, including California and Nevada and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. And people all over the country turn to BearWise for information they can trust and practical resources and tools that work in the real world.

The BearWise mission is to help people live responsibly with black bears. The BearWise philosophy is that the best way to do that is to help people better understand what makes bears tick. Show them how  everyone who lives in or travels to bear country can promote coexistence and prevent conflicts. And provide the resources and practical tools they need to help keep people safe and bears wild.

What does it mean to be BearWise?

It means getting up five minutes earlier so you can put your trash out in the morning instead of leaving it out the night before for a midnight bear buffet. Or investing in or creating a bear-resistant container that even the Tahoe Basin’s super-smart bears can’t defeat. And taking the time to make sure they’re closed, latched and cleaned out often.

It means taking down your bird feeders and adopting other ways to attract your feathered friends. Sorry, bird lovers, but there is no responsible way to feed birds when you live somewhere bears are active most of the year. But, good news, there are lots of ways to attract even more birds than you would with a feeder. Visit and check out the free "Attract Birds, Not Bears" bulletin.

It means following the BearWise Basics and keeping food and anything else with an odor (it doesn’t have to be a good odor) out of sight and smell of bears. Keeping vehicles clean and locked with the windows rolled up, or even better, parking them inside a locked garage.

When you’re BearWise, you know better than to store anything that might attract a bear on your back porch or deck. You lock your doors and close and lock your windows when you leave, and if there’s been a lot of bear activity in your neighborhood, you lock up when you’re at home.

If you’re being BearWise, your chickens and beehives are safely out of reach behind a well-maintained electric fence. You’ve got bear unwelcome mats outside the doors and windows of your summer cabin.

You feed your pets inside, or if you absolutely must feed outside, you pick up their bowls as soon as they’re done and clean up the area. And you resist the urge to feed strays or put out food for wildlife. Bears can’t read and they’re not polite; if there’s food available, they want some.

Welcome to Bear Country BearWise StickerWhat’s the harm in letting a hungry bear hang around your home or help itself to your leftovers?

The bear gets a meal it didn’t have to work for and you get to watch one of nature’s most amazing and charismatic animals … doing something totally unnatural that virtually ensures that eventually that bear will become way too comfortable around people and dependent on all the food sources people provide.

That leads to big problems for people: mangled trash containers, bashed-in birdfeeders, damaged fruit trees, raided gardens, coops and pens, demolished beehives, home and vehicle break-ins, and even injuries. It also leads to even bigger problems for bears. Bears that become dependent on human-provided foods may never fully develop a bear’s natural survival skills and often lead short, unhealthy, unhappy lives.

The bear biologists and bear managers who work for state wildlife agencies try every way they know how to encourage bears to leave people places alone. But bad habits that produce big food rewards for little effort are hard to break. Preventing conflicts is much more effective than trying to resolve them.

Recently the states of California and Nevada and a who’s who in the Lake Tahoe Basin sent out a joint interagency press release announcing their commitment to and strong support of the national BearWise program. The nine agencies represented include CDFW, NDOW, the USDA Forest Service, California and Nevada state parks, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

The state wildlife agencies will work closely with the USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and California and Nevada state parks to incorporate BearWise messaging as part of their united efforts through the Lake Tahoe Interagency Bear Team.

You can help by visiting and doing your part to keep people safe and bears wild in the Tahoe Basin … and wherever in bear country you might live or travel.

Categories: Human Wildlife Conflict
  • November 22, 2022
Image of ill hairless black bear at zoo

Facing a host of challenging medical ailments and a less-than-hopeful prognosis, an approximately 10-month-old male black bear from South Lake Tahoe was humanely euthanized on Monday at the Oakland Zoo where he was receiving treatment. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) veterinary team remained in close contact with the Oakland Zoo’s veterinary team, and after considering treatments and likely outcomes agreed that the cub was unlikely to have a good quality of life even if treatments were successful.

“This poor cub had a whole host of medical issues,” said CDFW Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Brandon Munk. “He was never going to be a normal bear again and would have required lifelong medical care in captivity. We didn’t want a poor quality of life for the bear and undue strain on any zoo or sanctuary caring for him.”

The severely underweight bear was brought to CDFW earlier this month after he was found in a public area of South Lake Tahoe. The bear was suffering from significant pneumonia, a broken foot with an infection that was likely spreading to surrounding bones, a dislocated wrist, severe hair loss and skin ulceration caused by fungal and bacterial infections, gastrointestinal parasites, an ear infection and an umbilical hernia.

CDFW received the bear on Nov. 10, did an assessment and on Nov. 11 transferred the bear to Oakland Zoo’s world-class veterinary medical facility. The zoo’s veterinarians were successful in relieving the bear’s pain and discomfort and stabilizing his condition. However, the bear’s condition worsened despite treatment. If veterinarians would have continued treatment, the bear would have required round-the-clock sedation, as well as potentially placing him on a ventilator.

“The fact that he had worsened, despite treatment, and would have required the highest level of invasive care, were the biggest deciding factors for euthanasia,” said Oakland Zoo Senior Veterinarian Dr. Ryan Sadler. “The potential for this bear to have a good life under human care, even with significant veterinary intervention, was very low. We didn’t want to see him undergo months of stress and painful treatment only to be left with conditions that would cause discomfort throughout his life.”


Media Contact:
Ken Paglia, CDFW Communications:

Categories: Rehabilitation, South Lake Tahoe
  • September 20, 2022
A young black bear with a skin condition receives veterinary treatment from CDFW.

Olive as a young bear in a fight for her life received intensive veterinary care from CDFW wildlife veterinarians to alleviate a skin condition that left her mostly hairless and unable to return to the wild. CDFW photo.

It was something of a soft launch in the spring of 2021 when the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) placed a young, orphaned, female black bear with a skin condition with the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary in Sacramento County.

The zoo had lost its popular 25-year-old black bear, “Marty,” to old age and had space to accept another bear. Currently, the zoo also has another black bear resident, “Henry,” a massive, 647-pound male that also arrived from CDFW as an orphan in 2003.

The small female bear with a chronic and unsightly skin condition that caused her to lose most of her fur was quietly welcomed into the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary without fanfare or public notice.

Not all wild bears, even young ones, transition well to life in captivity. Those arriving with chronic medical conditions can be especially problematic, requiring a disproportionate amount of veterinary attention and resources for zoos and other animal sanctuaries. As these entities typically operate as nonprofits, they are often dependent on outside fundraising to meet expenses and tend to be on very tight budgets.

The prognosis for the “hairless bear” was not optimistic when CDFW recovered the sick yearling from the west shore of Lake Tahoe in April of 2021. The bear was in very poor shape. Bears with such extensive medical problems often have underlying issues and almost never recover to the point where they can make it on their own in the wild, even with medical intervention.

After delivery to CDFW’s Wildlife Health Lab (WHL) in Rancho Cordova, wildlife veterinarians went to work right away. A full veterinary exam, blood work, X-rays and skin tests were completed. The bear had very thickened skin with crusts all over. Tests confirmed CDFW’s initial suspicions of a severe, chronic skin infection known as a Trychophyton fungal infection. Based on WHL’s previous experience with similar cases and consultations with veterinary specialists, a battery of intensive treatments commenced, including weekly clinical baths, a suite of antimicrobial drugs, a carefully constructed diet and heaters to help the hairless bear maintain body temperature during the cold nights.

WHL’s experience with similar bears has been that because of the long-term treatments required, the bears can become “habituated,” which means they lose their natural fear of humans and can associate humans with food. Physically, there’s also the potential for irreversible damage to the bear’s hair follicles as a result of the skin condition. In either case, it means these bears cannot be released back to the wild.

CDFW explored placement options for the bear pending successful treatment of the skin infection and found a willing taker in the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary.

The bear was transferred on May 25, 2021, weighing just 80 pounds. She was quarantined within the zoo’s bear exhibit for another six months – kept out of the public display and separated from the massive Henry until she became more comfortable with zookeepers and the routine at the zoo.

“She went out on exhibit in mid-November 2021 after she was more comfortable with groups of people,” said Jocelyn Smeltzer, manager of the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary. “We let her take her time and show us when she was ready to go out on exhibit. I’m glad we gave her the time she needed to settle in because she has been doing very well on exhibit ever since.”

So well, in fact, that the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary felt confident and comfortable to publicly announce on its website and related social medial channels the bear’s official introduction this past New Year’s Day.

Today, the 2-year-old female bear, which the zoo has named “Olive,” weighs a healthy 195 pounds and is still growing. She lives adjacent to – but still physically separated – from Henry. There are no immediate plans to unite the two for safety reasons given their size differences but sharing an exhibit with Henry or future zoo bears remains a possibility if the bears can demonstrate they will get along.

Olive’s fur has grown back to varying degrees. And while her coat may never be as full and thick as her counterparts in the wild, nobody is likely to call Olive the “hairless bear” again.

“The Folsom Zoo has been a wonderful partner over the years, providing a great home for a number of bears such as Olive that are not able to return to the wild,” said Deana Clifford, CDFW’s senior wildlife veterinarian. “As wildlife veterinarians, our top priority always is to return the animals in our care back to the wild. When that’s not possible due to medical reasons or other issues, we work to find the best possible placement options where these animals can live out their lives with the care and attention they deserve and the ongoing veterinary support they often need.”

Olive, a light-colored black bear, looks out from her enclosure at the Folsom Zoo Sanctuary in Sacramento County.
Olive makes her public debut at the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary in 2021. Photo courtesy of the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary.

Olive, a black bear housed at the Folsom Zoo Sanctuary in Sacramento County, lives in a rich enclosure with trees and other natural surroundings.
Olive lives in a rich enclosure with natural features such as tree limbs to climb. Photo courtesy of the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary.

Categories: Disease
  • September 8, 2022

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) successfully returned a black bear to forest habitat in August after it traveled through Lake Isabella in Kern County getting into trash and ultimately making its way to a local shopping center where it was being fed inappropriately.

On August 10, CDFW received initial reports that the bear was going through trash bins at a local mobile home community. The bear hadn’t acted aggressively and was considered a “no harm/no foul” bear. CDFW advised residents to haze the bear without harming it, and to remove anything from the property that would attract bears, such as unsecured trash or pet food.

The approximately 2-year-old male bear traveled south from the mobile home community, rummaging through trash bins at several residences as it made its way to the Lake Isabella shopping center.

On August 15, CDFW and local law enforcement received reports that the bear was being given food, and possibly alcohol, by an individual at the shopping center. Officers responded and attempted to haze the bear to the nearest natural habitat in the Kern River Basin.

On August 16, after several attempts at hazing, CDFW made the decision to tranquilize the bear and return it to suitable habitat. The bear was never deemed aggressive and was observed to be a healthy animal.

“We prefer to use the least invasive method possible when managing conflict bears,” said Chris DeTar, CDFW’s biologist who led the effort. “In this situation, our preference would have been to continue hazing. But we decided to tranquilize and return the bear to suitable habitat for several reasons, including the presence of people, the feeding (which would have motivated the bear to return) and a nearby four-lane road that intersected its path to habitat.”

Biologists darted the bear with a tranquilizer gun, which prompted it to climb into a nearby tree. About five minutes later, the tranquilizer took effect and the bear tumbled out of the tree a short distance to the ground. CDFW staff conducted a health assessment and confirmed the bear was not injured and healthy enough to be returned to habitat.

“Bears are instinctive tree climbers, which can complicate the process of capturing and relocating,” said DeTar. “Our staff are well trained in tranquilizing techniques, including careful shot placement and taking every precaution to ensure the safety of the animal. But wildlife is wild and sometimes unpredictable. Sometimes a tranquilized animal will run away before the drugs take effect or will relax and lose its grip on a tree branch, as happened in this case. We do our best to prevent falls, but when it happens, we are prepared to evaluate and assist the animal to ensure its welfare before release.”

Following the health assessment, staff ear-tagged the bear and placed it in a transport carrier, adding ice packs to ensure it didn’t get too hot. The bear was then transported to national forest land where it was successfully released.

CDFW Statewide Conflict Specialist Ryan Leahy noted that although the effort was successful, it also serves as a cautionary tale.

“We may have been able to use less invasive methods to resolve the situation had it not been for the public feeding the bear,” said Leahy. “When bears obtain human food, they begin to seek it out even if natural food sources are available. Bears can quickly lose their natural fear of people, which often escalates the situation. It’s a reminder that access to human food is often at the root of human-wildlife conflict.”

There is bear habitat in the higher elevation forested areas surrounding Lake Isabella. From time to time, bears will find their way into populated areas that are near wild lands like this. When bears enter urban or populated areas, they’re usually looking for food. The best way to keep bears away is to eliminate all attractants like unsecured garbage and pet food. Whether intentional or not, it is illegal to feed all wildlife including bears.

When a bear makes its way into a residential area but hasn’t acted aggressively, CDFW’s goal is to give the bear a chance to return to habitat on its own. If the presence of a bear becomes a public safety concern, CDFW wildlife officers respond and often work directly with local law enforcement.

Bear encounters and property damage caused by bears can be reported to CDFW through its statewide Wildlife Incident Reporting system.

More tips for safely co-existing with bears can be found on CDFW’s Keep Me Wild web page.

Media contact:
Ken Paglia, CDFW Communications:

Categories: General
  • July 18, 2022
Hard-sided canister such as this metal one with a top that screws on for extra security are now required of overnight visitors to Desolation Wilderness.

Attention backpackers: Beginning today – July 18, 2022 – overnight visitors to the Desolation Wilderness are required to store their food and trash in a canister designed to prevent access by bears.

Those orders were signed recently by USDA forest supervisors at the Eldorado National Forest and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, the agencies tasked with management of Desolation Wilderness. The purpose is to protect both bears and visitors to Desolation Wilderness, a popular, 63,960-acre wilderness area located southwest of Lake Tahoe and north of Highway 50 in El Dorado County.

“In recent years, bears have become more aggressive in their search for food, relying on human sources rather than natural sources. This causes increased interactions between humans and bears and the possibility of bears becoming habituated to the presence of humans. A person who fights back or gets between the bear and food is risking bodily injury or death. In cases where a bear is known to threaten or intimidate visitors repeatedly, or cause injury, the bear may be euthanized,” stated the USDA Forest Service news release announcing the new requirement.

The Forest Service says backpackers at Lake Aloha, Gilmore Lake and other popular camping areas in Desolation Wilderness have lost as many as 10 “bear hangs” a night to bears in recent years. Visitors are left with no food. To continue their backpacking trips, many of these groups must hike out of the wilderness to get more food. A “bear hang” is typically a makeshift system of rope, cord, sacks or bags – sometimes including pulleys and carabiners – used to hang or suspend food in a tree to protect it from black bears as well as from rodents in the backcountry.

“Typical methods of food and trash storage are no longer effective as wildlife has grown accustomed to humans,” stated the news release. “Whistles, banging pots and pans, yelling, nothing is working. Bears have adapted to even the most experienced campers’ food hangs and brought them down.

“One of the principles of Leave No Trace is to respect wildlife. Considerate campers observe wildlife from a distance, store food securely and keep garbage and food scraps away from animals. A camper would be wise to check his or her tent for food in pockets, candy wrappers and the like.”

The USDA Forest Service notes that backpackers can both purchase or rent a bear canister at the Placerville Ranger Station in Camino when they get their permit. For more information on rentals, call (530) 647-5415. Backpackers can also purchase a canister at a recreational outlet. Most bear canisters sold at retail recreational stores are highly bear-resistant.

Backpackers who are not in compliance with the forest order are subject to citations and fines.

Frequently Asked Questions from the USDA Forest Service

What is a “canister designed to prevent access by bears"?

Hard-sided canisters are commercially produced and designed to prevent access by bears. Bear-resistant canisters and panniers are the most effective method of food storage for wilderness travelers. Throughout the region, use of bear-resistant canisters is strongly recommended. In Desolation Wilderness it is mandatory to store food and refuse in a canister designed to prevent access by bear as of July 18, 2022.

Other food storage options like “odor proof” bags, or chew resistant bags, while great in many places, are not effective in Desolation Wilderness.

Do day users need to carry a canister?

Typically, people not spending the night will not need to carry a canister. Think about whether you will be able to always stay within arms-reach of your food. If you plan to swim, or leave your pack behind while skiing or climbing, or some other situation, you must store your food in a canister.

Do I need a canister during the winter?

Yes, canisters are required year-round.

Can I hike with overnight equipment across Desolation Wilderness in a day and not carry a canister?

Please carry a bear canister. It is the right thing to do, especially around Lake Tahoe and in the Sierra Nevada. Your responsibility to protect bears does not end at the Desolation Wilderness boundary, nor do the problems associated with human-food habituated bears. Lake Tahoe is struggling with people poorly protecting their food from bears. Help be a part of the solution.

In some places, if you have overnight equipment such as a tent or sleeping bag, you must comply with overnight and bear canister regulations even if you hope not to sleep in the area. For now, this is not the case in Desolation Wilderness. We will caution you that the 26 miles of Pacific Crest Trail between Echo Lake and Richardson Lake are hard to do in a day and bears continue to seek out and are actively obtaining food from hikers north of the Desolation Wilderness boundary.

What needs to be stored in a canister?

Items that must be secured include food sealed in jars, cans or foil packs. Non-food items such as plastic bottles, water bottles, coffee mugs, pet food, empty cans, trash, wrappers, cosmetics, grocery bags, boxes and ice chests must also be secured. Do not leave these items in your car or tent. Bears will break in to obtain them.

How can I report a bear-related incident in Desolation Wilderness?

Visitors can report an incident by calling the Placerville Ranger Station at (530) 647-5415 or the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit at (530) 543-2600.

Categories: Public Safety

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