OPINION: Bear Shooting in South Lake Tahoe Should Be an Opportunity for Education, Not Outrage

The recent incident in which a visitor to South Lake Tahoe returned to his vacation rental one evening and shot a large bear he found in the house has initiated a debate online about the man’s actions. Wildlife investigators deemed the man’s actions warranted, based on his story matching with the evidence at the scene. That’s still not enough for comment section warriors, who believe the man acted poorly in the incident.

There are truths on both side of the argument, but instead of outrage, we should use the publicity of this unfortunate incident to educate Tahoe visitors on cohabitating with the bear population.

First and foremost, our initial article was almost a premonition to the eventual outrage in the comment section by including the following quote:

“The amount of victim shaming that has taken place since this incident has occurred, that’s a little bit disappointing,” said Capt. Patrick Foy of California Fish and Wildlife’s Law Enforcement Division. “People were very rapid to jump to conclusions that this person was not defending himself or caused the problem himself. We have no evidence to suggest that this person wasn’t doing anything other than defending his life against a very major and serious threat inside his own home.”

We included this quote to hear the words from California’s law enforcement that there is no reason to victim blame in this situation. Obviously, it didn’t work. The comment section was immediately filled with angry people blaming the man for his actions.

Yes, maybe the best bear etiquette wasn’t used by this particular person. Rumors have stated that he left the door open at the house, which is certainly not good, but it’s also not illegal. He didn’t leave the door open to attract a bear, I can assure you. Rumors also stated the man cornered the bear in the house – again, not great but certainly not illegal. What transpired was unfortunate to say the least, but he had every right to protect himself in this situation.

Instead of blaming the man for protecting himself when he believed he was in danger, we should do our best to promote good bear etiquette policies in Tahoe. Let’s lead with education, not outrage.

Here are some suggestions to keep bear out of your Tahoe cabin from the Bear League:

  • Do Not feed the bears. Once they know there will be food waiting for them, they will return.  This leads to becoming a nuisance.  Bears are not relocated.  They are trapped and killed.  If the bear trapped is a mother, then not only will the mother be put to death, but her cubs will also die without her.
  • Do Not leave trash, or garbage out. Do not leave it outside overnight unless it is in a “bear-proof” steel container.
  • Do Not leave trash in your garage. Your garage is not a “bear-proof” steel container.
    • On trash day, if you do not have a “bear-proof” steel container, do put your trash out on pick-up day at the beginning of the day, not the night before.
    • Add ammonia, or Pine Sol inside each and every bag to help deter a bear break-in on your trash as it is outside waiting to be picked up on trash day.
  • Do not leave any trash out on your deck(s), or under your home in a crawl space, even for a short period of time. Same goes for small storage sheds, or exterior storage areas that might be attached to your home that only have access from the outside.
  • Do not leave pet food out on the decks. Think twice about bird feeders and their food.  Pet and bird food can attract bears.
  • Do not leave windows open with the scent of freshly baked goods or other recently cooked foods on the counters. Remember, if a bear can smell it, they will want to get to it.
  • Do not leave food/pet food, or ice chests on decks or in vehicles unattended.
    • Home owners often forget, or over-look their cars. Don’t forget to remove food trash wrappers and anything that smells like food from your vehicles. That can include air fresheners – think sweet food/fruit smells.  Opt for pine/antiseptic scented smells.
    • Bears can also smell lotion, shampoo (think fruit and vanilla smells – if you like them, so will the bears), food, gum, toothpaste and anything else that smells like food. If you think they are safe located in your trunk, glove compartment, or other storage areas in your car, think again.  Bears are smart and their sense of smell is extraordinary.  So these items and your car are at risk of bear intrusion, so remember to get those items out.
  • Do clean all trash containers with ammonia, bleach, or Pine Sol – smell elimination products.
  • Do clean the BBQ after each use. Remember to pick-up food that may have fallen on the ground and around the deck eating area.
  • Do remember that it is illegal to feed bears. The fine is $1,000, or 6 months in jail.  You’ll also have to live with knowing that you were responsible for the death of the bear if they have to trap it.  Trapping is not relocation, it is a destroy the animal death sentence.

Ways to deter a bear from checking out your Tahoe second home while you are not here:

  • Remove all food items from your home when you are not in residence. Don’t leave opened cans, packages, or other food-related items in your home.
  • Turn on radios, or use barking dog devices. You may need to use several radios or motion detection barking dog devices at vulnerable windows and door entrances.  Loud sounds do scare off bears, so if they think a dog, or person is inside because of the noise they may just move along to the next empty home.
  • Use your window coverings. Make sure bears cannot see inside.  If you don’t have window blinds, or drapes, put up a bedsheet as a temporary way to prevent a bear from looking inside.
  • Use your window/door shutters. If you have external shutters for your home windows, or doors, use them when you are not in residence.  If you don’t have them, consider installing window/door shutters as an additional line of defense.
  • Use Pine Sol. Owners have been known to leave small bowls of Pine Sol in open glass bowls by each window and door.  In addition, they will pour the solution across door thresholds, and on window sills.
  • Use motion detector lighting and video security. The sudden light coming on can often cause the bear to move along.  If  you combine that with an outside video security system that has audio communication (siren, or shouting at them), you’ll be able to see if the intruder is a bear, and you can use sound to deter them from trying to come into your Tahoe Second home.
  • Use electronic bear mats at door entrances.
  • Use electronic fencing on doors and windows.

I am often asked: what do I do if I run into a bear?  If you have a one-on-one encounter here are some suggestions from the Bear League website:

  • Do not try to feed a bear. It is illegal, and dangerous.  This is when you can cause the bear to accidentally hurt you, so do not feed them.
  • Do not run from a face-to-face encounter with a bear. Stand your ground.  Slowly, back-off and away from the animal.  Give the bear room to pass, or walk away from you.
  • Be loud. Make a lot of noise if you confront a bear. At the local hardware stores they have “bear horns” that are canned noise makers.  Buy one to place next to your emergency flashlights that you have by each door entrance.
    • If you know what the sound of the start of a race sounds like, you also know what the sound of a bear horn will sound like. Bear horns are small containers, and will easily fit into a pocket or purse. Many come with a clip that will allow you to attach it onto a belt loop making it easy to take on a hike.

Zach O'Brien

Zach O'Brien is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Active NorCal

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