The Food-Habituated Tahoe Keys Bear
Map of documented bear responses from the South Lake Tahoe Police Department from Aug. 18 through Nov. 4, 2021. Map courtesy of South Lake Tahoe PD.
The following post was written with the best information CDFW had at the time. Since this post was published, new information has come to light regarding incidents in the Tahoe Keys neighborhood. Please see the February 24, 2022, post "DNA Evidence Prompts Revised Response to Tahoe Keys Bear Incidents" for the most updated information.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is conducting a special trapping effort for a specific male bear, weighing approximately 500 pounds, in the Tahoe Keys area of South Lake Tahoe. These traps represent official state business to capture a specific and “severely food-habituated bear” defined as a conflict bear under CDFW’s 2022 Black Bear Policy in California. Food-habituated means that the animal has lost its fear of people and is associating people with access to food.
For more than seven months, and despite intense hazing and other mitigation efforts, this bear has caused extensive property damage in 33 documented cases and forcefully entered at least 28 homes in and near the Tahoe Keys (see map above). This bear is extremely food-habituated and has used its immense size and strength to break in and through front doors and garage doors. There have been, at last count, 102 individual reports of local police responses to this bear, including multiple hazing events to discourage the bear from breaking into homes and seeking human food sources.
When combining CDFW data with information from local police agencies, CDFW has 152 reports of conflict behavior from this animal. This bear is readily identifiable due to its exceptionally large size and dark coat with lighter muzzle. Additionally, CDFW has collected the bear's DNA and created a DNA profile to allow for 100 percent accurate identification of the bear. All other bears captured will be ear tagged, hazed away from human food sources, and released by our wildlife professionals in the nearest appropriate habitat.
While the Lake Tahoe area has a healthy and dense bear population, euthanizing an animal is always our last option. CDFW is currently evaluating the possibility of placement of this bear when captured. As detailed in our recently updated Black Bear Policy in California, there are several requirements that must be met to consider placement of a wild adult black bear.
Placement of adult black bears can have significant negative consequences on their mental health and must be considered when evaluating placement options. To quote from our Black Bear Policy: “Adult bears may be poor candidates for placement due to the chronic stress of adjusting to captivity after living in only wild conditions." To be considered, placement facilities must be accredited, have necessary state and federal permits to receive animals, and meet CDFW's standards for quality of facilities. At the time of this post, CDFW has not identified a placement option for this bear that meets the criteria of the Black Bear Policy.
The outcome for this food-habituated bear could have been avoided with a few simple actions. Bears are primarily scent-driven when seeking food. As such, we ask again that everyone remain vigilant and act responsibly by properly storing food and garbage while living in – or visiting – bear habitat. 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 web page.