Living in Tahoe With Bears

By Ann Bryant

One of the most delightful of all aspects of living in Tahoe is the honor of sharing this wonderful area with the native wildlife. The birds and animals that live here have done so for thousands of years and it is up to us, the “newcomers”, to move in respectfully and in a responsible manner.

The most unforgettable wildlife encounter residents are likely to have is with bears. They are big and oftentimes misunderstood. There are a few precautions a homeowner should take to lessen the likelihood of a problem arising. It is important to remember, even if you really like bears and don’t mind having them in your yard, other people might not feel the same way. The bear you make friends with and allow to hang out in your yard will think all people are his friends and he will then be destroyed for being “habituated to humans”. So, for your sake as well as the bears, please follow these guidelines and we can all live in Tahoe together.

The most important rule of all is NEVER FEED THE BEARS! They can survive much better without our handouts. Once a bear finds food on your property he will never forget and will return many times hoping for a repeat performance. This can be in the form of pet food left out, a bird feeder within reach, an unfinished picnic, garbage put out before pickup day, a compost pile, an apple tree full of ripe fruit, a bowl of peaches inside an open window, a candy bar laying in the front seat of the car, an opened door leading into the house and all the delicacies in the kitchen, an accessible garage with food or garbage inside…you get the picture. Feeding bears isn’t always deliberate, but it might as well be. Bears follow their noses and are thinking of food whenever they aren’t asleep. Make it a habit to keep anything edible completely inaccessible all the time. It is now illegal to allow a bear access to your garbage. If you have a neighbor who does this, report it to the BEAR League (530-525-7297) or Environmental Health.

Bears will sometimes enter houses if they smell food inside and a door or window is left open. So, always KEEP DOORS & WINDOWS CLOSED on the ground floor, especially while cooking or if you leave the house. There is a lever type door handle that bears have no trouble opening, if you have one of these keep it locked or replace it. A screen is nonexistent to a bear; he’ll go right through it. Any door that he can push or pull because it’s not latched properly could also be an invitation to come on in. Sliding windows need to be locked, otherwise they can open them. If a bear does get into your house, and this is much less likely if you’ve been serious about all the above tips, he will leave by the same way he entered. In other words, DO NOT STAND IN HIS EXIT ROUTE. As soon as he knows you are home he will be thinking only of getting out of there. He knows good and well that this is your den and he has been caught! Yell at him, throw something at him, be the dominant bear! If you run and hide under the bed he will assume you have given up your den to him. He wouldn’t let you in his home! If you are nervous, call the BEAR League and we’ll be happy to help you. Please remember he did not come in to eat you or your dog, only to raid your fridge.

Crawl spaces under houses and decks are perfect places for bears to make day beds and hibernation dens. It’s a good idea to dissuade them before they decide to move in. Place several bowls of Pinesol under the house, it lasts for a couple of years and smells bad to a bear. Make sure trap doors are securely screwed shut, not just nailed. You can tell if a bear is setting up housekeeping under your house by his nest-building behavior and he will mark his new home as off limits to other bears by defecating (quiet a lot!) nearby.

We have a few tricks we use to persuade them to move out if you discover you have an uninvited furry guest. Please don’t attempt to move him by yourself, call us and we’ll take care of it for you.

If your home borders a wooded area you are more likely to have bears passing by. When the kids are out playing give them a whistle or put bells on their shoes. As long as they make noise the bears will know they are there and will leave them alone. Don’t teach your children to be afraid, just sensible. Remind them that all the Grizzlies are gone from the state of California and any bear they see here now is a black bear (no matter what color it is). Black bears are intelligent, gentle and shy. They prefer to be left alone to go about living their lives, which they have just as much right to do as us.

To contact the BEAR League
or call 530-525-PAWS (7297)

Tahoma bear photos
©2004 by Darin Manning