Fall is officially here, which usually means the Fall Fish Festival in South Lake Tahoe, and very hungry bears in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
Bears Prepare for Hibernation
This year, due to extraordinary circumstances involving wildfire, COVID-19, and staffing, the Fall Fish Festival was not held at Taylor Creek. However, bears are entering hyperphagia, or the time of year when they seek massive amounts of calories for the winter den cycle, and they will still be on the hunt for Kokanee salmon, seeds, berries, grubs, and other high-protein foods. Human food should not fall into this category. Learn more at the following YouTube video: https://youtu.be/SeL1U67XNdY(opens in new tab).
Wild black bears normally eat around 5,000 calories a day during the year, but in the fall, they need an average of 20,000 to store as fat over the winter. Bears in the Tahoe Basin tend to consume more than they need by eating unhealthy human foods, as well as staying more active over the winter months to try and take advantage of unsecured garbage and food.
Hibernation, or torpor as it’s more accurately referred to for bears, occurs in late fall or early winter as the weather cools and natural food becomes less available. This slows down a bear’s metabolism and allows them to reduce activity in their dens and live off their fat stores.
Habituated bears, and males in particular, will often leave the den during this time and seek out easily obtainable food. Females, which will give birth at the beginning of the year, are more likely to stay in their dens. This could explain why Tahoe residents still see some bear activity in the winter.
During hyperphagia, bears can be very focused and persistent about getting food. They will spend most of the day trying to eat and can be more vulnerable to vehicle strikes and interaction with people. Do not try to defend a food source from a hungry bear. Do make sure to keep using and locking dumpsters and bear-resistant trash containers. Pack out trash that doesn’t fit into full containers whether you’re at a rental, the beach, or a trailhead. Never provide food for bears; it is illegal, unhealthy, and can lead to human-bear conflicts such as home/vehicle break-ins or physical contact. Let bears find food in the wild and give them space.
Bear Managers at Work
Bear managers and law enforcement may be out hazing bears. If you see these officials yelling at bears, using airhorns, or chasing them, it is to try and get these bears out of a populated area or to give them a negative experience with humans instead of a food reward.
Officers may fire less-lethal bean bag rounds when it is determined safe to do so. This may temporarily deter bears or force them to leave the area and while it may sting, it is not meant to cause injury. Bears often climb a tree to escape danger. This is the time to back off, get somewhere safe and let them come down on their own. Hazing bears that are up in trees won’t work and sends a mixed message to the bear. Officials are doing their best to keep people and bears safe.
Living and recreating in the Lake Tahoe Basin’s bear country is a year-round responsibility. Please do your part to help us keep our bears wild!
Here are some more tips you can follow to help keep Tahoe’s bears wild:
- Never feed wildlife.
- Store all garbage in and properly close bear-resistant garbage containers, preferably bear boxes. Inquire with local refuse companies about new bear box incentives and payment programs. Visit https://southtahoerefuse.com/bear-info/(opens in new tab) and/or http://www.ndow.org/Nevada_Wildlife/Bear_Logic/(opens in new tab) for more information.
- Never leave groceries, animal feed, garbage or anything scented in vehicles, campsites, or tents.
- Keep barbecue grills clean and stored in a garage or shed when not in use.
- Keep doors and windows closed and locked when the home is unoccupied.
- Vegetable gardens, compost piles, orchards and chickens may attract bears. Use electric fences where allowed to keep bears out. Refrain from hanging bird feeders.
- When camping, always store food (including pet food), drinks, toiletries, coolers, cleaned grills, cleaned dishes, cleaning products, and all other scented items in the bear-resistant containers (storage lockers/bear boxes) provided at campsites. New bear resistant coolers that come equipped with padlock devices should always be locked to meet bear-resistant requirements.
- Always place garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters in campgrounds or in bear-resistant containers at campsites (storage lockers/bear boxes), and close and lock after each use.
- Store food in bear-resistant food storage canisters while recreating in the backcountry.
- Give wildlife space, especially when they have young with them.
- Leave small bears alone, mom might be right around the corner.
- Secure your crawl space and winterize your home, including removal of all food when unoccupied.
To report human-bear conflicts:
- In California, contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife at (916) 358-2917 or report online using the Wildlife Incident Reporting (WIR) system at apps.wildlife.ca.gov/wir.
- Non-emergency wildlife interactions in California State Parks can be reported to its public dispatch at (916) 358-1300.
- In Nevada, contact the Nevada Department of Wildlife at 775-688-BEAR (2327).
- If the issue is an immediate threat, call the local sheriff’s department or 911.
For more information on coexisting with bears, visit TahoeBears.org(opens in new tab).