They Belong Here: Help Keep Tahoe Bears Wild
By: Trent Unruh
Lake Tahoe is black bear country, and we like it that way. Our ursine locals have called this place home hundreds of thousands of years before even the Washoe Native American Tribe first stepped foot in the area, and as apex predators are deserving of everyone’s respect and consideration.
Black bears are the only kind of bear you can find around Lake Tahoe or in California and are much smaller and more timid than their brown bear and grizzly cousins to the north. Black bears vary in color from tan or brown to black but are typically dark brown with a brown muzzle but Tahoe bears have been described as having a cinnamon color. A wild, healthy black bear should flee at the sight or smell of humans and typically weigh between 200-400 pounds.
Bears in the Lake Tahoe basin are opportunistic omnivores, meaning they will eat pretty much anything available to them, including grasses, roots, seeds, nuts, grubs, ants, carrion, as well as small mammals, young elk, fawn deer, and even birds. Unfortunately, being an adventurous eater can create problems when human food and garbage enter the picture.
With a sense of smell ten times more powerful than a blood hound’s, black bears can be attracted to unsecured food and garbage in their search for easy calories, especially in the fall as they eat and drink nearly nonstop in preparation for winter. If a bear’s past experience tells them they can expect to find food where humans live, with no resistance from those humans, they will continue to return, which can ultimately lead to a death sentence for the bear. But it doesn’t have to be that way, you can help protect them!
While black bears are more than capable of looking after themselves in the wild, they could use a little bit of help from people to avoid issues.
“Instead of trying to get that perfect picture or great video of a bear, let them know that they are too close and appreciate them from a distance,” said Denise Upton, Animal Care Director at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care. “The biggest favor you can do a bear is to consistently not let them get away from being close to your territory without consequences. Even as a guest, show them it’s your space, and don’t be afraid to yell at them, use an air horn, or bang things together if you are a safe distance away. In the rare event that a bear finds its way into a building, be sure to keep clear of the way they came in as that is usually the way they will exit.”
Black bear attacks are extremely rare and generally occur when a human is between a sow and her cubs or when an unsuspecting foraging bear is startled.
Want to learn more about the bears in and around the Lake Tahoe Basin? Visit the links below!
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