Bear Facts
"Living with Wildlife"

Often visitors and residents of the Coarsegold Resource Conservation District encounter wildlife in it's native habitat. This article was provided by the California Department of Fish and Game to enable both man and wildlife to be good neighbors.

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     Californian's are blessed with many opportunities to observe the State's abundant and diverse wildlife. Sometimes our encounters can be as close as the backyard and at other times in the more remote spots where we enjoy our recreational activities. Those living in the local foothill and mountain environs have even greater opportunities for wildlife interactions. Although our encounters with wildlife can be enjoyable, they also can be challenging at times and may require that we make some adjustments in our activities to avoid human/wildlife conflicts.

    The Department of Fish and Game is charged with conserving, protecting and managing the State's fish and wildlife. To alleviate public conflicts with wildlife, the Department responds to numerous calls each year regarding wildlife nuisance or damage complaints. These are often resolved by talking with the property owner to discuss damage prevention and avoidance measures. Remedies are often as simple as providing information about wildlife behavior, and advising the property owner to remove attractants and discourage wildlife access. For more difficult or serious situations, a field investigation may be required to further assess the complaint.  Calls to the Department involve a wide variety of species, including mountain lions, black bears, bobcats, skunks, bats, woodpeckers and snakes.

    In the mountains, California's black bears continue to be the focus of most complaints. Black bear inhabit the Sierra from the high mountain meadows down to the foothills and oak woodlands. Residents and campers in these areas must learn to be "bear aware," taking precautions every day to not attract bears by inadvertently providing them with artificial food sources. Black bears are curious, intelligent and solitary animals. In the wild they have an average life span of approximately 10 years but may live up to 30 years. In a study from northern California, adult bears weighed an average of approximately 127 pounds for females and 225 pounds for males, though several males weighed more than 400 pounds. Young (cub and yearling) may stay with their mother for up to two years. They learn from their mother how to successfully find food and survive, before they are forced to survive on their own.

    Active bears spend much of their time foraging for food. A majority of the diet (90-95 percent) is comprised of berries, vegetation, insects and carrion. They forage for young tender plants in the spring, browse on berries in the summer and oak acorns in the late summer and fall and feed on insects and carrion wherever available. Most black bears "hibernate" or sleep during the winter. Unfortunately, like humans, bears also appear to relish "unnatural" sweet or greasy foods (e.g., bacon grease, melons, candy, soda, pet food, hummingbird food, etc.). If bears sense food in human backpacks, tents, cabins, garbage cans, vehicles, etc. and subsequently obtain food from these sources, they quickly learn or become "trained" to associate the situation or an object with getting food. In the future, even if food is not present, they may try to obtain food from these sources, having learned that they sometimes contain food. It can take many unsuccessful attempts and negative encounters to change a bear's behavior. People living or recreating in bear habitat may face problems with "trained" bears supplementing their natural diet with food easily obtained from ice chests, trash cans, cars, cabins, chicken coops, gardens, or pet food bowls.

    A recently published Department brochure, "Living With California Black Bears," emphasizes "The best way to avoid conflict with bears is to prevent it." Often, incidents with bears are a result of human behavior. We can lessen the chances of conflict by following the simple guidelines discussed below when we are in bear habitat. Increasingly, counties and Forests in California and other states are establishing ordinances and rules to require bear "proof" trash and food storage containers to reduce human/bear conflicts.

    The longer a bear remains in the vicinity of your home or campsite, the more likely a conflict will occur. Try to prevent a conflict by removing or deterring access to attractants (e.g., food, poultry and small livestock, fruits and melons, pet food, etc.). First, clean up residual trash, food, greasy barbecues and anything else causing odors that might tempt a bear. Use basic deterrents, including dogs, radios, house and porch lights (activate lights with motion detectors), moth balls or bowls of ammonia placed outside at doors and windows. Electric fences can be installed around chicken coups, beehives, livestock pens, melon patches and fruit orchards. Always properly secure and store food, including pet and livestock food, e.g., grains. If you have a horse, manure should be frequently cleaned up as bears are known to eat the manure for the residual grain. If you have a cabin in the mountains and it is unoccupied at any time of year, remove all food and trash, clean food preparation areas and leave refrigerator and cabinet doors and drawers open.

    While camping, keep your campsite and personal articles as clean as possible. Store food in "bear proof" containers or storage lockers when possible. If "bear proof" containers are not available, clean and seal food storage containers and place in the most secure or inaccessible location practical. Take care to disguise the shape of the container if it looks like an ice chest! Do not leave food in your car at a trail head.

    Bears use their great strength and long curved front claws to catch an edge of an object and pry it open. They can pry open car doors, dumpster lids, cabin sidings, etc. Bears do not have an opposable "thumb," so they can't grasp an object with a single paw, as humans can grasp objects between the thumb and fingers. Therefore, bears can't unclip a hook or latch. "Bear proof" containers are made without exposed seams and are resistant to crushing or forcing open. "Bear resistant" containers were probably once called "bear proof," until this intelligent animal found an unconventional way to open them.

    The Department's wardens and wildlife biologists will investigate serious damage complaints by conducting a field investigation. If damage is verified and determined to be caused by a black bear, the investigator will review what actions were taken to avoid the problem. If corrective actions were made to prevent reoccurrence and the bear chronically and persistently causes damage, the property owner can be issued, upon request, a permit from the Department to kill the bear.

It's important to note that although black bears rarely attack people, they are strong animals capable of causing injury to humans. If you actually encounter a bear, follow these suggestions:

Bullet  Do not approach the animal. Give it plenty of room to escape.

Bullet   Do not run from the bear. Instead stand, face the animal and make eye contact without staring. Pick up small children so that they don't run.

Bullet  If a bear approaches, make yourself appear larger and make noise by banging pots, pans, etc.

    The above recommendations to avoid conflicts with black bears are investments in the future, and generally much easier and cheaper than the alternatives: damage, expensive repairs, a continuous mess, and a lingering large hungry black bear. Of course, if only some families in the neighborhood or campground practice these guidelines, problems may continue as other can still be contributing to bad bear behavior by "training" bears to take advantage of an easily acquired food source. All members of the public must work together to keep California's black bears wild and "out of trouble."

    "Living With California Black Bears" and other Department brochures including: "Living With California Mountain Lions," "Living With Coyotes," and "General Gardeners Guide to Preventing Deer Damage" may be obtained from a Department of Fish and Game office. (When contacting the Department by telephone be prepared to leave a message with your name, address, phone number and the information or brochures that you are requesting.)

Region 1 Northern California - North Coast  601 Locust Street 
Redding CA 96001 
(530) 225-2300
Region 2 Sacramento Valley - Central Sierra  1701 Nimbus Road, Suite A 
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670 
(916) 358-2900 
Region 3 Central Coast  7329 Silverado Trail 
Napa, CA 94558 
(707) 944-5500 
Mailing address: 
P. O. Box 47 
Yountville, CA 94599 
Region 4 San Joaquin Valley - Southern Sierra  1234 E. Shaw Avenue 
Fresno, CA 93710 
(559) 243-4005 x132 
FAX (209) 243-4022 
Region 5 South Coastal Region and Inland Desert  330 Golden Shore, Suite 50 
Long Beach, CA 90802 
(562) 590-5132 
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