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.
Ken Paglia, CDFW Communications: Ken.Paglia@wildlife.ca.gov