Bear Naked Truth

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

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  • January 8, 2021

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.

a 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

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  • 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.

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  • October 16, 2020

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.

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