Bear Naked Truth

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

  • April 21, 2023

Are your bird feeders down, your BBQ clean and your bee boxes protected? If you live or maintain a residence in bear country, it’s time to prepare for spring bear activity. That means eliminating attractants that can bring bears to your mountain home and property. Even unlikely attractants such as plant fertilizer, gasoline and antifreeze can bring bears around. A bear’s nose is 100 times more powerful than a human’s and seven times stronger than that of a bloodhound. The “BearWise At Home Checklist” can help keep people, pets and property safe this spring – and bears wild.


Categories: Hibernation, Human Wildlife Conflict, South Lake Tahoe
  • December 27, 2021
Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care sign in snowy landscape

Within hours of receiving authorization to care for bear cubs again, Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care welcomed an orphaned, 25-pound bear cub from Tulare County to its improved South Lake Tahoe facility December 8, 2021.

Three more orphaned cubs – two siblings from the South Lake Tahoe area and a third cub from the Coleville area in Mono County – were transferred shortly thereafter from Gold Country Wildlife Rescue in Auburn to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care to prepare the cubs for hibernation in a high-country climate similar to where they were rescued and where they will ultimately be returned to the wild.

“Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care is an important partner, one with decades of experience rehabilitating and releasing bear cubs back to the wild,” said Dr. Brandon Munk, wildlife veterinarian for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). “We’ve been working closely with them to ensure we are all maintaining the best possible standards for bear rehabilitation in this state.”

Munk was among five CDFW employees who conducted a site inspection of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care’s facilities December 7, 2021 prior to renewing its permit to temporarily possess and rehabilitate injured and orphaned black bear cubs.

Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care operates under a CDFW wildlife rehabilitation permit to conduct care and rehabilitation of native wildlife -- excluding big game species such as deer, elk, and black bears. Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care had a secondary agreement with CDFW to rehabilitate black bear cubs that expired on July 22, 2021. Efforts to renew that secondary permit were temporarily delayed by the much-publicized escape this summer of a bear cub injured in the Tamarack Fire while recovering at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care.

CDFW required Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care to make several improvements to its facility enclosures and fencing as part of the permit renewal process to possess bears.

Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care is just one of four wildlife rehabilitation facilities in the state permitted to care for black bear cubs, joining Gold Country Wildlife Rescue in Auburn, Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue in Santa Rosa and the San Diego Humane Society’s facility in Ramona.

bear cub clinging to tree trunk
Wildlife watchers kept a close eye on this orphaned black bear cub from Tulare County before it was eventually captured and transferred to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care in South Lake Tahoe for rehabilitation and preparation for eventual release into the wild. Photo courtesy of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care.

The South Lake Tahoe facility plays an outsized role in bear rehabilitation given its decades of experience and its location in the Lake Tahoe Basin, the area being a continual source of human-bear conflicts and bear issues of all kinds – from wildfires to vehicle strikes on busy Lake Tahoe-area roads.

The fortifications to its bear enclosures are just the beginning of several improvements coming to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care as part of a planned expansion effort.

The facility has met and exceeded a $500,000 matching grant that will fund construction of a new wildlife animal hospital and care unit. The new facility will feature animal hospital services, a neonatal nursery, operating room and recovery rooms, along with other care and treatment spaces needed for a full-service wildlife veterinary hospital, including 24-hour care services. When completed, rescued native wildlife in the Lake Tahoe Basin can be cared for in the region’s first dedicated wildlife animal hospital. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2022.

Categories: Hibernation, Rehabilitation, South Lake Tahoe
  • January 8, 2021
South Lake Tahoe home in need of securing and boarding up a crawl space underneath the house. Openings such as these can allow black bears to enter and den up for the winter.

Openings or weaknesses in crawl spaces can be exploited by black bears looking for a warm spot to spend the winter. Property owners need to secure their properties in bear country. A black bear found this South Lake Tahoe home to its liking and set up a den underneath it for the winter. CDFW photo by Shelly Blair

hi·​ber·​nate | \ ˈhī-bər-ˌnāt  \

link opens in new windowintransitive verb

  1. to pass the winter in a link opens in new windowtorpid or resting state … bears hibernating in their dens
  2. to be or become inactive or dormant … let the computer hibernate

– Merriam-Webster

Winter has arrived in the Tahoe Basin, prompting some homeowners and visitors to let down their guard, thinking bear conflicts are over for the season with the bruins off hibernating in the forests somewhere in a deep slumber.

Hardly, say veteran CDFW biologists. While most Tahoe Basin black bears definitely slow down and den up over the winter, some continue to access human food sources and remain active year-round.

a lone black bear explores a porch on a South Lake Tahoe home looking for food in the winter
A black bear explores a South Lake Tahoe front porch in winter looking for food. CDFW photo by Shelly Blair

It’s never too late for property owners to board up any openings under homes and decks if they know there’s no bear already inside. Bears are wild animals that do not belong under cabins or houses. They can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous if they feel trapped or become startled.

Vacation homeowners winterizing their properties should remove all food items from their unoccupied residences, including spices and canned goods. Biologists also encourage window coverings for unoccupied properties. Tahoe bears have been known to associate refrigerators and freezers with food (and can peek into homes looking for these appliances when searching for a potential meal). Tahoe residents and visitors need to remain vigilant in winter to secure food and garbage to discourage any active bears from becoming habituated and reliant on humans for food.

Being “bear aware” is a year-round necessity in the Tahoe Basin.

Categories: Hibernation
  • 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

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