Bear Naked Truth

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

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  • May 9, 2022

Now that the snow has sufficiently melted and spring has sprung, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has resumed Trap-Tag-Haze efforts in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Since 2017, CDFW has caught, tagged, collected DNA and released 36 bears as part of its Trap-Tag-Haze bear research and management efforts in the Basin.

This spring, CDFW will focus initially on the South Lake Tahoe area, where a few different bears have broken into homes since the summer of 2021. Although reports have slowed, these bears have caused significant property damage throughout the neighborhood known as the Tahoe Keys.

If the large bear that recently garnered significant media attention is trapped, it will be evaluated by CDFW veterinarians for release into the wild. A release site in appropriate bear habitat has already been identified that should provide the bear plenty of habitat to transition to wild bear behaviors. The bear will be monitored with a satellite tracking collar that will help determine if the management effort is effective.

All other bears captured will be ear-tagged and hazed upon release (loudly chased to provide a negative association with humans and habituated behavior).

DNA evidence collected through Trap-Tag-Haze efforts already has shown interesting family relatedness among bears displaying similar activity. In other words, mother bears are likely teaching negative and nuisance behaviors to their offspring.

Some monitored bears have successfully acclimated to wild habitats outside of town while others have returned and continued to exhibit habituated behaviors, which means associating people, homes, cars, campgrounds, coolers and the like as sources of food.

Following the South Lake Tahoe Trap-Tag-Haze efforts, CDFW will move the operation to the western and northern sides of the Basin. The video below further explains CDFW’s innovative Trap-Tag-Haze program.

Categories: Research, South Lake Tahoe, Tahoe Keys
  • September 9, 2021
A South Lake Tahoe home shows damage on its garage door where black bears broke in.

Property damage caused by black bears in South Lake Tahoe during the Caldor Fire evacuation. CDFW photo.

Caldor Fire evacuees returning to the South Lake and West Shore areas of Lake Tahoe should be aware that bears have been seeking out human food sources during the evacuation and taking advantage of the lack of human presence. As you approach your residence, look and listen carefully for signs that a bear has been or is in your home. If a bear is in your home, call 911. Do not attempt to chase it out yourself. Your safety is your responsibility!

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) encourages residents to make repairs to damage caused by bears as soon as possible. Easy access and a food reward encourages bears to keep coming back looking for more. Never leave food or water out for bears. It is illegal, for one, and can lead to escalating problem behaviors such as break-ins and human-bear contact that may result in death of that bear. Learn more about how to keep the Tahoe Basin’s black bears healthy and wild in the aftermath of the Caldor Fire here: wildlife.ca.gov/News/returning-tahoe-evacuees-visitors-urged-to-secure-properties-resist-providing-food-and-water-to-bears

The following CDFW images show some of the additional property damage caused by black bears in South Lake Tahoe during the Caldor Fire evacuation.

Three black bears feast upon raided pet food they took from an RV after breaking in while South Lake Tahoe was under evacuation as a result of the Caldor Fire.

A recreational vehicle with a broken door shows the after-effects of a bear break-in during evacuation in South Lake Tahoe as a result of the Caldor Fire.

A garage door in South Lake Tahoe has a hole in it -- the result of marauding black bears during evacuation as a result of the Caldor Fire.

Categories: South Lake Tahoe, Wildfire
  • June 25, 2021
A GPS black bear tracking collar, completely clasped and encircled, sits by itself on the forest floor within the Stanislaus National Forest.

The "Kings Beach Bear's" GPS tracking collar as biologists found it this spring on the forest floor. CDFW photo by Mark Abraham.

In wildlife work, happy endings, feel-good stories and grand conclusions can be elusive.

Such is the case with the “Kings Beach Bear,” the big black bear that made national news in 2020 by entering local businesses on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore in search of food and crashing Kings Beach get-togethers, sending partygoers fleeing and helping itself to birthday cake and other treats. In the end, researchers may never know the ultimate fate of the animal also known as the “Safeway Bear” or the “Chevron Bear” for the Tahoe businesses it so brazenly frequented.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) scientists recovered the bear’s GPS tracking collar April 6 deep within the Stanislaus National Forest, near Beardsley Reservoir in Tuolumne County. The bear’s collar was completely intact, clasped closed and lying on the forest floor about 27 air miles southwest of CDFW’s Leek Springs Ecological Reserve in El Dorado County, where the bear was originally released Sept. 6, 2020.

“The collar had been sending satellite signals from the same location since January, but because of the snowpack, we couldn’t access it until April,” said Shelly Blair, CDFW’s unit wildlife biologist for Alpine and El Dorado counties. “We think the bear slipped the collar months before we could get to it. Originally, we thought the bear was denning in that location, but the site where we recovered the collar did not have any denning areas that we could find.”

Earlier collar signals showed the bear made a successful crossing of Highway 88 and passed through the Mokelumne River drainage above Salt Springs Reservoir into Amador County in October.

While bear scat and bear prints were found near the collar recovery site, no carcass or other evidence turned up indicating the current state of the bear. CDFW scientists suspect the collar – a modified, refurbished elk tracking collar – came free as the bear lost winter weight in the wild – removed from a diet of human food and garbage around Lake Tahoe.

CDFW trapped the Kings Beach bear that first week in September 2020. A veterinary exam revealed an old – more than 15 years old – male bear weighing a whopping 512 pounds with bad teeth and a poorly healed injury on its left hind foot. Due to its old age and lack of available space, placement in a permanent wildlife facility or zoo was not an option. The bear was taken to a large expanse of wild habitat on CDFW property in El Dorado County and released. In addition to a GPS tracking collar, the bear was outfitted with two identifying ear tags – a metal tag in its left ear numbered 1217 and a plastic orange tag in its right ear numbered 1274.

Although the bear’s whereabouts are unknown, CDFW does know that the bear stayed in the wild – for a few months at least before shedding its tracking collar. As far as CDFW is aware, the old bear has never returned to Lake Tahoe's North Shore where it caused such a stir last year and earned its celebrity status.

Categories: Kings Beach, Research
  • May 14, 2021
A tranquilized male bear lies on a gurney, blindfolded, as its vital signs are monitored at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care.

A young male bear, one of the "South Shore Four" rehabbing at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care the past year after being orphaned as a cub, is sedated while being outfitted with identifying ear tags and a GPS tracking collar prior to release back into the wild in April. CDFW photo by Shelly Blair.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) licenses and partners with nearly 100 private wildlife rehabilitation facilities around the state that provide important care, shelter and veterinary services to injured, orphaned and other displaced wildlife of all kinds.

What happens to these animals upon their recovery and release back into the wild often remains a mystery. That’s true even at the only two rehabilitation facilities licensed in California to work with black bears: The San Diego Humane Society’s Ramona Campus in Southern California and Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care in South Lake Tahoe.

While the rehabilitated bears are almost always outfitted with an identifying ear tag or two prior to release, a feel-good video of the bears fleeing a portable trap on their way to freedom is often the last time biologists and wildlife rehabbers ever see them.

With a second chance at life in the wild, do the bears revel in their newfound freedom and stay as far away from people as possible and successfully transition to natural food sources? Or, after months of being cared for and closely watched at a rehabilitation facility, are the bears more comfortable around people, seeking out the nearest rural communities for the easy access to human food and garbage they can often supply? Do bears kept together in a rehabilitation facility and released together stay together in the wild? If so, for how long?

These are among the questions CDFW wildlife biologists are seeking answers to with the recent release of the “South Shore Four” – four young black bears, two males and two females, rehabbing together the past year at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care where they arrived as young-of-the-year cubs. Three of the four were orphaned when their two mothers were hit and killed by cars – one of the female cubs suffering a broken leg from a vehicle strike.

Fully recovered, weighing between 150 and 190 pounds each and old enough to survive on their own, the “South Shore Four” were released into a nearby national forest last month, two bears at a time. Three of the four cubs were fitted with GPS tracking collars that will alert biologists to their whereabouts four times a day if canopy cover allows. Biologists also receive a mortality signal 12 hours after no movement so that recovery and cause of death can be determined.

“We’re hoping to understand their movements directly after release, whether or not the ones that were released together stay together, the distances they travel and where they’re going,” said Shelly Blair, CDFW’s wildlife biologist for Alpine and El Dorado counties. “This is essential information to monitor the after-effects of almost a year in captivity and where they go. If they’re moving toward trouble – a campground or a community – we’ll be able to see that and get ahead of it if possible.”

GPS-tracking collars are an important research tool for wildlife biologists but also something of a precious commodity that cost between $800 and $2,000 each.

The collars are fastened around the bears’ necks with surgical tubing that will expand as they grow. After a few months of exposure to the elements, the tubing will deteriorate, and the collars will fall off to be recovered later. At that point, the South Shore Four’s research contributions will be short and likely complete, but will yield valuable information about the bear rehabilitation program and help improve CDFW's efforts to ensure the best possible outcome for these animals to be successful wild bears.

Video: Watch as two of the 'South Shore Four' are returned to the wild.

Categories: Public Safety, Rehabilitation, Research
  • May 10, 2021
A black bear with identifying ear tags looks on from a tree branch high upon a pine tree in the Lake Tahoe area after being trapped, tagged and hazed upon release by state parks and wildlife staff.

A female black bear takes in her surroundings from the safety of a pine tree after being trapped, tagged and hazed by state parks and wildlife staff last fall. CDFW photo by Travis VanZant.

As the Lake Tahoe Basin’s black bears emerge from their winter slow-down and slumber, campground managers, biologists, park rangers and wildlife officers hope to have a new tool at their disposal to help manage the human-bear conflicts certain to arise this spring and summer: a growing catalogue of Tahoe’s bear population.

Since the fall of 2019, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and California State Parks have teamed up to trap, tag and haze as many Tahoe bears as possible to identify individual bears, build a genetic database of the population, study its overall health, and whether related bears are passing down problem behaviors from one generation to the next. Eighteen bears have been trapped to date – four of those being recaptures. Genetic material is collected and each bear is outfitted with an identifying ear tag before release.

This May, CDFW will broaden the effort and team up with the U.S. Forest Service to trap, tag and haze additional bears within the Tahoe National Forest. The trapping takes place in short windows during the early spring and late fall off-seasons at Tahoe-area campgrounds. The bears are hazed – but not harmed – upon release to provide a negative human interaction and to see whether the experience will keep them away from campgrounds and people in the future.

In the following video, Shelly Blair, CDFW’s wildlife biologist for El Dorado and Alpine counties, and Sarinah Simons, California State Parks Sierra District human-bear management specialist, explain the innovative collaboration and scientific work during trapping efforts last fall.

Categories: Public Safety, Research
  • 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
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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
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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

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