The "Kings Beach Bear's" GPS tracking collar as biologists found it this past spring on the forest floor. CDFW photo by Mark Abraham.
When California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) biologists recovered a GPS tracking collar deep within the Stanislaus National Forest in April, they suspected that was the final chapter in the saga of the “Kings Beach Bear.”
Also known as the “Safeway Bear” or the “Chevron Bear,” the big, male black bear made headlines in 2020 (YouTube) by entering local business on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore – including a Safeway and Chevron convenience store – rummaging for food and crashing Kings Beach get-togethers, helping itself to birthday cake and other treats and prompting widespread concern.
CDFW trapped the problem bear in September 2020, affixed identifying ear tags – a metal tag in its left ear numbered 1217 and a plastic orange tag in its right ear numbered 1274 – along with the GPS tracking collar and ultimately released the bear into remote wild habitat in El Dorado County.
With the bear’s tracking collar recovered last spring – with no sign or evidence of the bear otherwise – two potential outcomes were discussed. In a best-case scenario, the bear successfully transitioned to a natural diet and life in the wild, losing winter weight that allowed the GPS collar to come free. In a worse-case scenario, the old bear – estimated at more than 15 years old – was unable to adjust, lost weight and died.
The ultimate fate of the Kings Beach Bear proved much more tragic and traumatic.
In early August, a CDFW biologist and wildlife officer responded to calls of a large black bear shot and killed at a campground in Alpine County near Hermit Valley.
A large family with many small children was camping in the area when a large black bear approached their campsite repeatedly during the early evening and late hours of the night. Multiple attempts to haze the bear and shoo it away proved unsuccessful.
The campsite was clean and the family had properly stored and secured their food and garbage. Fearing for its safety, the family shot and killed the bear when it approached their campsite yet again – and reported the shooting to officials. The family was distraught when CDFW showed up to investigate.
At the scene, CDFW officials saw the 1274 orange tag in the bear’s right ear, identifying it unmistakably as the Kings Beach Bear. The bear – once weighing more than 500 pounds – was a shell of its former self, completely emaciated, its teeth rotten.
As one CDFW biologist later said, “Ultimately, the actions of the shooter was the most humane outcome for this bear.”
CDFW wildlife officers ruled the shooting justified. And CDFW biologists now have more empirical evidence and a rather traumatic case study about the ability of human food-conditioned bears to successfully transition to life in the wild.
For tips and best practices to keep Tahoe’s bears from becoming accustomed and dependent on human food sources, visit Keep Tahoe Bears Wild. Additional information and resources are available at CDFW’s Keep Me Wild: Black Bear webpage.