LAKE TAHOE, Calif./Nev., August 16, 2022 – Summer can be a tough time to be a bear.
Green grasses have dried up and berries haven’t quite ripened for eating yet, causing black bears to move around more in search of easy food. This means there is a lot to think about when living, visiting, or recreating in the Lake Tahoe Basin this time of year.
Food on barbecues and picnic tables brings curious bears into neighborhoods and campgrounds to investigate, making it very important always to practice proper food storage.
Never leave food unattended. Any attractant left out becomes accessible to bears and could result in a food reward, which will bring bears back for future visits and make bears think it’s OK to look to humans for food. If a bear approaches, yell at the bear, honk a horn, and scare the bear off before it is rewarded.
If you are unable to chase the bear away, there are others who can help. On National Forest lands, a campground host or employee may be able to assist in moving the bear along and securing attractants. Likewise on California State Parks properties, park rangers can often assist. If you are in a residential area, call 911 for a trained local sheriff to come and help move the bear away from the property.
Bears love barbecues. If you have used a barbecue, grease and food bits left on the grill could be a tasty snack for a hungry bear. After you have finished cooking your own food, keep the grill fired up on high heat for about 10 minutes to burn off any residual food scraps and make the barbecue less attractive to passing bears. Make sure you clean up all food and place garbage in a secure wildlife-resistant container or bear box. Never keep food or garbage in your vehicle. Bears will break in.
The point is this: It is neither natural nor healthy for bears to forage on human food and garbage. This can damage their claws, teeth, and digestive systems. Whether intentional or not, it is illegal to feed bears. Do your part to follow the law and prevent bears from accessing human food and garbage. Human-sourced food keeps bears from participating in the natural ecosystem, which depends on bears to scatter native seeds, control insects, and clean up animals that have died. A healthy, wild bear means a healthy, wild ecosystem.
Here are a few seasonal tips for summer:
Visitors to Home Rentals: If your bear box is full, take your garbage home with you. Please don’t leave it next to the bear box. Bears will get into it and get the food reward before the garbage is picked up, creating more conflicts for future visitors and residents.
Businesses: Always keep your dumpsters locked, even during the day when employees may be accessing them frequently. If dumpsters are overflowing, businesses should make every effort to empty them or find another secured location to place excess garbage.
Campers: Bears will approach at all times of the day. Never leave your food or garbage outside of the bear box, except while closely attended and in use. Diligently follow all campground rules regarding food storage.
Beachgoers: If you bring food to the beach, it must be attended to, and garbage must be thrown away properly. If all bear-resistant garbage containers are full, take your garbage with you so it is not available to bears.
The warm summer days and cool nights in the Tahoe Basin make us all want to open our windows to let in the mountain air. However, as we let the fresh air in, we let food smells out. Black bears, with their keen sense of smell, will gravitate to open windows and doors. It is very important to make sure you close all windows when you are either away from a house or asleep at night.
Bears know when humans are active or present and will take advantage of those quiet times to enter a home through a window or a door to access a kitchen for easy food. Likewise, it is wise to lock your doors. Some bears know how to open doors and locking them is the only way to keep bears from entering a home.
Living and recreating in the Lake Tahoe Basin’s bear country is a year-round responsibility. Please do your part to help keep Tahoe’s bears wild and healthy.
Other year-round, bear best-practices include:
- Never feed wildlife. Feeding wildlife often brings animals in conflict with people and attracts wildlife to human homes and neighborhoods where they can get struck by vehicles and encounter other human hazards.
- 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. In California, visit South Tahoe Refuse & Recycling Services for information and resources. In Nevada residents should check the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s (NDOW) Living with Bears resources.
- Never leave groceries, animal feed, garbage, or anything scented in vehicles, campsites, or tents.
- Be sure to always lock vehicles and close the windows. Understand that eating – even drinking coffee – in your car often leaves lingering odors that attract bears.
- 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, fruit trees, 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. 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, hard-sided food storage canisters while recreating in the backcountry.
- Give wildlife space. Enjoy wildlife from a distance, especially when they have young with them.
To report human-bear conflicts in California, contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) at (916) 358-2917 or report online using CDFW’s Wildlife Incident Reporting (WIR) system at apps.wildlife.ca.gov/wir. Non-emergency wildlife interactions within California State Parks property can be reported to public dispatch at (916) 358-1300. To report human-bear conflicts in Nevada, contact NDOW at (775) 686-BEAR (2327). If the issue is a direct threat or emergency, call 911 to seek immediate help from local law enforcement.
For more information on peacefully coexisting with bears, visit TahoeBears.org.