Bear Naked Truth

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

  • January 5, 2024
A Lake Tahoe Basin black bear holds a freshly caught kokanee salmon in its mouth.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has been alerted to flyers posted recently in the Lake Tahoe Basin encouraging people to feed bears and allow them to access garbage in order “to survive.” This is false and extremely harmful misinformation that is detrimental for bears.

Bears are perfectly capable of surviving on their own and far better off without any human handouts. By intentionally feeding bears, people are quickly conditioning those bears to associate humans and homes as food sources. Bears baited by left-out food and garbage are conditioned to cross the boundary of safe behavior by approaching people, cars, houses, etc., to seek out that food reward. This changes a bear’s natural behaviors and greatly increases the potential for conflict.

It’s not possible for communities in bear country to coexist with bears unless people respect boundaries with bears and other wildlife. This includes not feeding wildlife, keeping garbage and other attractants away from bears and wildlife and educating oneself on all the best practices when living in or visiting bear country.

Living in bear country is a great privilege that comes with responsibilities. So please take the time to check out the online resources below to inform yourself and help others be part of the solution.

Thank you for your help in keeping Tahoe bears wild.

Online Black Bear Resources:

Photo courtesy of the Nevada Department of Wildlife.


Media Contact:
Peter Tira, CDFW Communications, (916) 215-3858

Categories: Human Wildlife Conflict, South Lake Tahoe
  • September 21, 2023
A bear cub outfitted with a GPS collar is released back into the Tulare County woods after time spent in wildlife rehabilitation.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has increased its use of GPS technology to better understand the outcomes of black bears released from wildlife rehabilitation facilities.

This year marks the first time that CDFW is tracking with GPS collars all bears released back into the wild after care from the four wildlife rehabilitation centers permitted to care for black bears in California.

It’s a way to track the bears’ behavior and movements and see how they are faring in the wild. CDFW human-wildlife conflict specialists might also use the GPS information to intercept a bear approaching a neighborhood or community and redirect it back to wild habitat.

Among the GPS-tracked, rehabbed bears released in 2023 were two orphaned cubs from Tulare County. CDFW cameras were on scene to capture the final moments of their care at the San Diego Humane Society’s Ramona Campus and the return of one of the bears to its home in the woods of Tulare County. Learn more at the video featured below.

Categories: Human Wildlife Conflict, Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, Rehabilitation, Research
  • 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
  • March 20, 2023

In January, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) jointly announced their formal partnership with the national nonprofit BearWise, which was developed by leading black bear biologists to provide resources, information and consistent, science-based messaging on how to minimize black bear conflicts. CDFW subsequently reached out to BearWise to ask the organization to introduce itself to the Lake Tahoe community along with others around the state interested in black bear issues. What follows is a guest post by Linda Masterson, communications and marketing director for The National BearWise Program and author of the Living with Bears Handbook. Meet BearWise.

By Linda Masterson

If bears could read, we wouldn’t need BearWise®.

Bears excel at acting in what they perceive are their best interests: finding food, finding shelter, finding mates, raising their cubs, coexisting with each other. But they have no clue that avoiding people and people places would be in their long-term best interests.

But if bears could read, they would quickly learn that taking advantage of all those human-provided food sources carries risks that are far greater than any short-term reward. Bears are super-smart, resourceful and adaptable. They’d decide that no matter how tempting it was, staying far away from people was the wise thing to do.

Bears are exceptional mothers; they would immediately start teaching their cubs how to make a living off the natural landscape instead of how to scoot through pet doors into kitchens full of people food and bring the goodies back out to share. Or what night the unprotected trash goes out in which subdivision. Which dumpsters are easy to get into. Where to find a bird feeder full of seed or a yard full of chickens and bees. Which streets are lined with pretty trees that produce fruit that we don’t eat, but bears do. And which of the human neighbors put out a bear buffet of treats and then sit back and enjoy the bear show.Stash & Latch Your Trash BearWise sticker

Since almost all conflicts with bears are caused by people inadvertently or purposefully attracting them, in a generation or two (of bears, not people) conflicts would fade into memories of the bad old days. Bear biologists and managers could finally focus on studying bear biology and behavior, preserving the habitat bears need to live off the land and doing everything in their power to ensure bear populations are healthy and thriving today, tomorrow and always.

People could live in and visit bear country knowing they’re doing their part to keep people safe and bears wild. All while enjoying the occasional privilege of glimpsing a bear in the woods going about the business of being a wild bear.

Unfortunately, bears can’t read. And people are more complicated and less adaptable than bears. That’s why we need BearWise.

What makes BearWise different? The BearWise program was started several years ago by 15 states in the Southeast. Other states soon saw the benefit of being part of a program that guaranteed that no matter where people lived or traveled in bear country, they got the same consistent, science-based message about living with bears. Today, BearWise is managed by a national team of bear biologists and wildlife communications professionals and supported by 34 member state wildlife agencies, including California and Nevada and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. And people all over the country turn to BearWise for information they can trust and practical resources and tools that work in the real world.

The BearWise mission is to help people live responsibly with black bears. The BearWise philosophy is that the best way to do that is to help people better understand what makes bears tick. Show them how  everyone who lives in or travels to bear country can promote coexistence and prevent conflicts. And provide the resources and practical tools they need to help keep people safe and bears wild.

What does it mean to be BearWise?

It means getting up five minutes earlier so you can put your trash out in the morning instead of leaving it out the night before for a midnight bear buffet. Or investing in or creating a bear-resistant container that even the Tahoe Basin’s super-smart bears can’t defeat. And taking the time to make sure they’re closed, latched and cleaned out often.

It means taking down your bird feeders and adopting other ways to attract your feathered friends. Sorry, bird lovers, but there is no responsible way to feed birds when you live somewhere bears are active most of the year. But, good news, there are lots of ways to attract even more birds than you would with a feeder. Visit and check out the free "Attract Birds, Not Bears" bulletin.

It means following the BearWise Basics and keeping food and anything else with an odor (it doesn’t have to be a good odor) out of sight and smell of bears. Keeping vehicles clean and locked with the windows rolled up, or even better, parking them inside a locked garage.

When you’re BearWise, you know better than to store anything that might attract a bear on your back porch or deck. You lock your doors and close and lock your windows when you leave, and if there’s been a lot of bear activity in your neighborhood, you lock up when you’re at home.

If you’re being BearWise, your chickens and beehives are safely out of reach behind a well-maintained electric fence. You’ve got bear unwelcome mats outside the doors and windows of your summer cabin.

You feed your pets inside, or if you absolutely must feed outside, you pick up their bowls as soon as they’re done and clean up the area. And you resist the urge to feed strays or put out food for wildlife. Bears can’t read and they’re not polite; if there’s food available, they want some.

Welcome to Bear Country BearWise StickerWhat’s the harm in letting a hungry bear hang around your home or help itself to your leftovers?

The bear gets a meal it didn’t have to work for and you get to watch one of nature’s most amazing and charismatic animals … doing something totally unnatural that virtually ensures that eventually that bear will become way too comfortable around people and dependent on all the food sources people provide.

That leads to big problems for people: mangled trash containers, bashed-in birdfeeders, damaged fruit trees, raided gardens, coops and pens, demolished beehives, home and vehicle break-ins, and even injuries. It also leads to even bigger problems for bears. Bears that become dependent on human-provided foods may never fully develop a bear’s natural survival skills and often lead short, unhealthy, unhappy lives.

The bear biologists and bear managers who work for state wildlife agencies try every way they know how to encourage bears to leave people places alone. But bad habits that produce big food rewards for little effort are hard to break. Preventing conflicts is much more effective than trying to resolve them.

Recently the states of California and Nevada and a who’s who in the Lake Tahoe Basin sent out a joint interagency press release announcing their commitment to and strong support of the national BearWise program. The nine agencies represented include CDFW, NDOW, the USDA Forest Service, California and Nevada state parks, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

The state wildlife agencies will work closely with the USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and California and Nevada state parks to incorporate BearWise messaging as part of their united efforts through the Lake Tahoe Interagency Bear Team.

You can help by visiting and doing your part to keep people safe and bears wild in the Tahoe Basin … and wherever in bear country you might live or travel.

Categories: Human Wildlife Conflict
  • September 20, 2022
A young black bear with a skin condition receives veterinary treatment from CDFW.

Olive as a young bear in a fight for her life received intensive veterinary care from CDFW wildlife veterinarians to alleviate a skin condition that left her mostly hairless and unable to return to the wild. CDFW photo.

It was something of a soft launch in the spring of 2021 when the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) placed a young, orphaned, female black bear with a skin condition with the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary in Sacramento County.

The zoo had lost its popular 25-year-old black bear, “Marty,” to old age and had space to accept another bear. Currently, the zoo also has another black bear resident, “Henry,” a massive, 647-pound male that also arrived from CDFW as an orphan in 2003.

The small female bear with a chronic and unsightly skin condition that caused her to lose most of her fur was quietly welcomed into the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary without fanfare or public notice.

Not all wild bears, even young ones, transition well to life in captivity. Those arriving with chronic medical conditions can be especially problematic, requiring a disproportionate amount of veterinary attention and resources for zoos and other animal sanctuaries. As these entities typically operate as nonprofits, they are often dependent on outside fundraising to meet expenses and tend to be on very tight budgets.

The prognosis for the “hairless bear” was not optimistic when CDFW recovered the sick yearling from the west shore of Lake Tahoe in April of 2021. The bear was in very poor shape. Bears with such extensive medical problems often have underlying issues and almost never recover to the point where they can make it on their own in the wild, even with medical intervention.

After delivery to CDFW’s Wildlife Health Lab (WHL) in Rancho Cordova, wildlife veterinarians went to work right away. A full veterinary exam, blood work, X-rays and skin tests were completed. The bear had very thickened skin with crusts all over. Tests confirmed CDFW’s initial suspicions of a severe, chronic skin infection known as a Trychophyton fungal infection. Based on WHL’s previous experience with similar cases and consultations with veterinary specialists, a battery of intensive treatments commenced, including weekly clinical baths, a suite of antimicrobial drugs, a carefully constructed diet and heaters to help the hairless bear maintain body temperature during the cold nights.

WHL’s experience with similar bears has been that because of the long-term treatments required, the bears can become “habituated,” which means they lose their natural fear of humans and can associate humans with food. Physically, there’s also the potential for irreversible damage to the bear’s hair follicles as a result of the skin condition. In either case, it means these bears cannot be released back to the wild.

CDFW explored placement options for the bear pending successful treatment of the skin infection and found a willing taker in the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary.

The bear was transferred on May 25, 2021, weighing just 80 pounds. She was quarantined within the zoo’s bear exhibit for another six months – kept out of the public display and separated from the massive Henry until she became more comfortable with zookeepers and the routine at the zoo.

“She went out on exhibit in mid-November 2021 after she was more comfortable with groups of people,” said Jocelyn Smeltzer, manager of the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary. “We let her take her time and show us when she was ready to go out on exhibit. I’m glad we gave her the time she needed to settle in because she has been doing very well on exhibit ever since.”

So well, in fact, that the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary felt confident and comfortable to publicly announce on its website and related social medial channels the bear’s official introduction this past New Year’s Day.

Today, the 2-year-old female bear, which the zoo has named “Olive,” weighs a healthy 195 pounds and is still growing. She lives adjacent to – but still physically separated – from Henry. There are no immediate plans to unite the two for safety reasons given their size differences but sharing an exhibit with Henry or future zoo bears remains a possibility if the bears can demonstrate they will get along.

Olive’s fur has grown back to varying degrees. And while her coat may never be as full and thick as her counterparts in the wild, nobody is likely to call Olive the “hairless bear” again.

“The Folsom Zoo has been a wonderful partner over the years, providing a great home for a number of bears such as Olive that are not able to return to the wild,” said Deana Clifford, CDFW’s senior wildlife veterinarian. “As wildlife veterinarians, our top priority always is to return the animals in our care back to the wild. When that’s not possible due to medical reasons or other issues, we work to find the best possible placement options where these animals can live out their lives with the care and attention they deserve and the ongoing veterinary support they often need.”

Olive, a light-colored black bear, looks out from her enclosure at the Folsom Zoo Sanctuary in Sacramento County.
Olive makes her public debut at the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary in 2021. Photo courtesy of the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary.

Olive, a black bear housed at the Folsom Zoo Sanctuary in Sacramento County, lives in a rich enclosure with trees and other natural surroundings.
Olive lives in a rich enclosure with natural features such as tree limbs to climb. Photo courtesy of the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary.

Categories: Disease

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