Bear Naked Truth

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

  • November 13, 2020

Jason Holley is a supervising wildlife biologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Based in CDFW’s North Central Region headquarters in Rancho Cordova, Holley supervises five wildlife biologists working in 12 counties -- Amador, Alpine, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Glenn, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Sutter and Yuba.

Holley joined Lake Tahoe Television (South Lake Tahoe Channel 12/Truckee Channel 14) recently to talk about seasonal changes impacting Tahoe’s bears and steps residents need to take to keep these bears wild and free from human conflict. What follows is a synopsis of that interview.

Lake Tahoe Television: Is hibernation starting now?

Holley: Tahoe’s bears have been in hyperphagia (hī-pər-ˈfā-j(ē-)ə) – eating almost constantly – as they prepare for hibernation. Now they are starting to slow down metabolically and may seem lethargic as they look for their dens. So it’s a great time to make sure that your crawl spaces are properly secured because you do not want a bear using your home for its winter den.

Lake Tahoe Television: Do bears stay asleep all winter?

Holley: California is huge – about half the size of the entire Eastern Seaboard. Bears behave differently in different parts of the state. At lower elevations such as in Southern California, bears hardly hibernate at all. Some Tahoe bears will show some activity throughout winter. They may wake up and check out their surroundings.

Lake Tahoe Television: Just last night I saw a bear looking for garbage at a gas station.

Holley: Thanks for bringing that up. Residents and businesses always need to properly store food and garbage – especially in bear country. And it’s getting darker earlier now, especially with the time change. We all need to be more careful and watchful for wildlife on the drive home from work. Vehicle strikes of wildlife, unfortunately, are all too common around Lake Tahoe.

For more information about living and recreating in bear country, please visit Keep Me Wild: Black Bear.

A smallish, yearling black bear curls up inside a den consisting of a downed tree.
A yearling black bear finds a winter den underneath a downed tree. CDFW photo by Sara Holm.

Categories: Hibernation, Hyperphagia
  • October 16, 2020
black bear at night outside of a large metal bear trap

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and California State Parks are teaming up on a black bear research project in the Lake Tahoe Basin starting this fall. The goal is to gather genetic information on individual bears so that wildlife managers can identify individuals, better understand relatedness among bears, further understand their behavior and movements, and acquire a greater sense of the relative density of this species throughout the Tahoe Basin. Three black bears already have been captured, tagged and released this week as part of this scientific initiative.

scientist bent over immobilized black bear
Sarinah Simons from California State Parks collects a saliva sample from a Tahoe Basin black bear last spring. CDFW and State Parks are collaborating this fall to build a DNA database and inventory of Lake Tahoe's black bear population. CDFW photo.

The biologists will capture, immobilize and ear-tag individual bears while collecting biological samples (DNA through blood, hair, and saliva swabs). Trapped bears will receive a full field evaluation and the animal’s vital signs—heart rate, temperature, and respiration—will be monitored throughout the entire process. An inventory and DNA database of the Tahoe Basin's bear population will be accumulated over time.

Aversive hazing (“tough love”) may be applied to bears upon release. Techniques will include bean bag and paint ball projectiles as well as air horns. These tactics are based on a simple principle: If bears are smart enough to learn from positive experiences, perhaps they are smart enough to learn from negative ones as well.

Through this collaborative partnership, CDFW and State Parks aim to reduce the number and frequency of human-bear conflicts and restore black bears in Lake Tahoe to their natural and wild behavior. However, this can only be done through positive cooperation from the public. This includes storing all food and garbage in secure, bear-proof facilities, discouraging bears from residing in developed areas and NEVER feeding bears or other wildlife. Together, we can all work to keep Tahoe bears safe and wild.

black bear at night outside of a large metal bear trap
CDFW and State Parks will attempt to capture, tag and release as many black bears as possible in the Tahoe Basin this fall in order to build up a DNA database of the population, be able to identify individual bears responsible for conflicts and provide aversive hazing to minimize future human-bear conflicts. CDFW photo.

Categories: Research
  • October 8, 2020

A sedated, immobilized Carnelian Bay black bear awaits a wildlife veterinarian's examination inside CDFW's Wildlife Investigations Lab near Sacramento. CDFW photo.

As wildlife managers, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) staff are trained to hope for the best while preparing for the worst.

Last weekend, a CDFW environmental scientist specializing in human-wildlife conflicts responded to worried reports about a very sick or injured bear in the Carnelian Bay area of northern Lake Tahoe in Placer County. These reports were bolstered by a troubling video clip that showed a staggering bear slowly entering a small patch of habitat in a residential area. When CDFW arrived at the scene, the listless animal was located under a nearby structure.

Finding a bear that was mostly non-responsive, CDFW acted swiftly under animal welfare protocols to anesthetize the bruin and transport it to its Wildlife Investigations Lab near Sacramento for further expert evaluation. A veterinarian’s exam confirmed a severely dehydrated and emaciated adult female black bear with sunken eyes, protruding bones, and only weighing 115 pounds – or about half the average size for a female bear more than 10 years of age.

The bear’s significantly compromised condition, coupled with abnormal swelling of her mammary glands and other lesions, led CDFW to a presumptive diagnosis of “end-stage metastatic cancer.” As such, this animal’s suffering was ended as swiftly and humanely as possible, and the initial diagnosis was later confirmed via necropsy.

Categories: Carnelian Bay
  • October 7, 2020

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recently ended a multi-trap effort to remove a public safety bear from Lake Tahoe’s North Shore after the trapping effort proved unsuccessful and there were no more signs of the offending bear in the community.

The trapping effort was initiated last month by CDFW law enforcement following a bear attack of a victim inside his North Shore home. On August 27, a bear entered an occupied residence and severely bit a male victim, who was trying to encourage the bear to leave the house. It was an unprovoked attack. The bear had an exit, began to move toward the exit, and then turned back away from the exit into the house to bite the victim.

Between September 5 and 13, forensic evidence (DNA matches from samples collected at the house) proved the attack was caused by the same bear responsible for four other break-ins into occupied homes – and into one house twice the same night.

As with all public safety incidents, the decision to trap and remove the bear was made by CDFW law enforcement. CDFW law enforcement is required to investigate and make a decision regarding trapping a public safety animal based on interviews, physical evidence and the totality of the circumstances surrounding an incident. Public safety is among CDFW’s chief responsibilities with regard to black bears in Lake Tahoe. This was not a depredation event.

CDFW obtained approval from all property owners where bear traps were set. Property owners were fully supportive and cooperative with the trapping effort. Two bears that entered the traps during the effort were tagged and safely released after DNA analysis proved they were not the offending, public safety bear.

The trapping effort was active for two weeks. After CDFW determined that acquiring the target bear was unlikely, the traps were removed. CDFW communicated this to interested Tahoe residents on September 23. CDFW continues to monitor the North Shore community for bear activity and is poised to collect and analyze any forensic evidence from any further break-ins. CDFW will reinstall traps if necessary to protect the safety of the Lake Tahoe community.

Categories: Public Safety
  • September 29, 2020

Surely you remember the Kings Beach bear? You might recall him better as the "Safeway bear" or the "Chevron bear" or perhaps even the "birthday cake bear."

Throughout late August and early September, a link opens in new windowblack bear was caught on camera multiple times entering local businesses (Video) in the Kings Beach community on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore to take food. These videos made national news as the bear displayed no fear of people and disregarded attempts to shoo it out of the stores. Additionally, the bear was photographed crashing a family gathering and eating a birthday cake.

The bear was identified by the partial, unreadable tag in its left ear affixed many years ago along with DNA analysis. DNA collected from the scenes of the multiple business break-ins along with the same physical description indicated the same bear was responsible for each event.

The recent behavior of the bear classified it as a “habituated bear” under the CDFW’s bear policy. Habituated bears show no overt reactions to people as a result of repeated exposure with no negative consequences. Because the bear was hazed multiple times with no resulting changes to its behavior or response to humans, CDFW determined a different strategy was required.

CDFW conducted a trapping effort in early September and quickly captured a bear matching the physical description from these numerous conflicts. The bear was taken to CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Lab near Sacramento for a thorough health and wellness evaluation by CDFW veterinarians. DNA samples also were taken to CDFW’s Wildlife Forensics Lab and confirmed that the bear’s DNA matched that gathered at the Kings Beach incidents.

The health and wellness evaluation revealed an old – more than 16 years old – male bear with a poorly healed injury on its left hind foot. Due to the advanced age of the bear and lack of available space, placement in a permanent wildlife facility or zoo was not an option. To keep tabs on the bear and help prevent any future conflicts, CDFW affixed a GPS tracking collar on the bear and released it in a large expanse of wild, suitable bear habitat, where the bear remains today. CDFW continues to monitor the bear’s whereabouts to evaluate his return to the wild.

link opens in new windowVIDEO: The Kings Beach bear is released into wild habitat while being hazed by bean bags.

Categories: Kings Beach

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