After Last Year’s Busy Bear Season, Experts Again on High Alert

Published : Thursday, March 23, 2017 | 5:57 AM

In one 2016 incident, three bears roamed a Kinneloa Mesa neighborhood, swimming in a pool and exploring dumpsters searching for food. With no Fish & Game wardens available, Sheriff's deputies monitored the bears' movements until they disappeared back into the foothills. Photos: Staff photographer Brandon Villalovos

State officials and naturalists are on high alert for bear incidents in Pasadena’s foothill and northern neighborhoods as Spring marks the season when bears in the San Gabriel Mountains come out of their denning period and start teaching their young cubs how to forage.

“Bears are just starting to come out,” said California Fish and Wildlife spokesman Andrew Hughan. “The young ones will be looking for food, the mothers will be teaching them…”

2016 saw a record number of bear sightings in Pasadena, officials said last year.

In one incident, a bear entered the backyard of a home in Kinneloa Estates and killed pet rabbits as the horrified homeowners watched from inside their den. Then in October, 2016 a 54-year-old man was injured in a bear attack in the San Gabriel Mountains near Sierra Madre just outside Pasadena, authorities said.

“We encourage strict vigilance,” said California Fish and Wildlife spokesman Andrew Hughan.

Hughan said that bears are attracted to neighborhoods primarily by trash cans.

“Don’t put them out until the morning of the trash collection. If there’s anything really stinky, wrap it up in plastic or flush it down the garbage disposal.” he said.

“Majority of the bears we see around here are second generation bears that are taught to go through trash as a food source,” explained Kim Bosell, Natural Areas Adminstrator at The L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation.

These bears have learned to exist close to homes that have routine trash pickups and easy access to canyons and the open areas where bears live.

“Bears know when it’s trash day. It’s their natural habitat so you can’t blame them for showing their faces,” said Lisa Derderian of the Pasadena Fire Department.

The Pasadena Fire Department actually offers residents “bear proof” trash containers, she said.

The average size of a male black bear ranges from 350 to 400 pounds, while females average slightly smaller, from 200 to 250 pounds.

While trash is the obvious draw that attracts these bears to residences, other features such as bird feeders and koi ponds tend to be easy food sources that attract the hungry bears.

“Bears are quite lazy when it comes to gathering food, which is why they go to things like trash cans and bird feeders: because it’s easy. They aren’t known to hunt down animals or people,” said Bosell.

This can be a relief for worried residents who fear being mauled or having a pet whisked away in the paws of a black bear — whose curved claws are normally one to two inches in length. Historically speaking, there has only been one recorded death by a bear in California and that dates back to the nineteenth century. The typically bear’s diet consists of vegetation, insects and fruit, with only five percent accounted for by consuming meat.

Simply put, bears are used to the human population and just want to munch on scraps that are readily available. For residents who have had close encounters with these bears, it’s still a fright even after you know that bears flee in 95 percent of all cases in which they come too close to people.

“Black bears are generally very, very benign unless it involves food or their cubs,” said John Monsen of the Sierra Club’s Pasadena Group.

“In California, roughly a hundred years ago, there were still grizzlies in the San Gabriel Mountains. The grizzly bears, they don’t really care; they’re not afraid of anything,” Monsen said. But the grizzlies are gone today.

“Black bears, on the other hand, you need to be cautious, but generally, they’re the ones that are probably going to run first in most situations,” he said.

Experts do warn that if you cannot keep your distance and a black bear directly approaches you, you should try to demonstrate to the bear that you may be a danger to it. Make yourself appear larger, stand up, raise your arms and open your jacket. Yell and create a commotion.

In efforts to keep these animals away from your home, the Pasadena Humane Society has outlined some basic tips to discourage bears from visiting your property.

• Do not put out trash cans the night before pick up
• Store garbage cans in a garage or shed
• Keep garbage cans clean. Disinfect with ammonia or bleach.
• Promptly collect fruit that falls from trees. Harvest fruit as soon as it’s ripe.
• Remove plants that attract bears, such as any berries including Dogwood.
• Eliminate bird feeders during spring and summer when there are natural foods available for birds.
• Eliminate compost piles.
• Keep barbecue grills clean and free of drippings.
• Consider purchasing bear spray and keep it at your front/back door.

According Bosell, wildlife officials and law enforcement often engage in practices called hazing which are efforts employed to guide black bears back into the wild when sighted in residential areas. Bears can only be tranquilized and relocated during hunting season under California law.

Residents are urged to alert law enforcement or the Humane Society if they see a bear in their neighborhood, and to also refrain from trying to get to close to the animal.

“Leave it to the professionals,” said Derderian.

For more information and tips about bear safety and prevention, visit www.pasadenahumane.org.

Editor’s Note: Bears of some sort have lived in California for thousands of years. For example, the short-faced bear (Arctodus spp.) is an extinct bear that inhabited North America during the Pleistocene epoch until 11,000 years ago and their remains have been found in the La Brea tar pits.