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Thursday’s Skinny Dipping Bears Belie Increasing Chances for Collateral Damage

Published on Friday, September 2, 2016 | 5:36 am
In Thursday's 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

On Thursday, local TV and media sites reported live from unincorporated Kinneloa Mesa northwest of Hastings Ranch as three bears skinny dipped in a swimming pool and dumpster dove for food.

But also in that incident the 300-pound mother bear reportedly smashed a glass sliding door, rummaged inside the home and injured the owner’s dog.

Altadena station Sheriff's deputies kept an eye on three black bears Thursday in a Kinneloa Mesa neighborhood.

The rash of recent bear sightings and captures, some miles south of the foothills in Pasadena’s residential neighborhoods, has been accompanied by an unsettling uptick in collateral damage to property and pets.

“It’s not cute and it’s not funny to see it in person at your home,” said Elizabeth Holland, a Hasting Ranch resident who said on May 23 she was frightened to find a large black bear exploring her back yard.

What Holland didn’t know at the time was that the bear she encountered would, that same day, tear apart a metal gate and devour a pet rabbit in the back yard of a nearby home bordering the Eaton Canyon Golf Course as the horrified homeowner watched, powerless to act.

Thursday’s incident in Kinneloa Mesa was more tense than usual because California Fish & Game wardens were not available to assist Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies in coralling the mother bear and her two large cubs.

Wardens routinely respond to bear incursions and are trained to sedate the bears with darts fired from tranquilizer guns.

In their absence — a Fish & Game spokesperson said they were “short staffed today unfortunately” — deputies resorted to arming themselves with non-lethal stun bag guns in case the bears became aggressive towards residents or officers.

In the end, the trio wandered back into the wilderness.

But, as Pasadena Fire Department spokesperson Lisa Derderian noted, the Thursday incident may be over yet another is bound to occur. Sightings and captures in Altadena and Pasadena neighborhoods seem to be occurring at a record pace this year.

According to experts, most bears that wander down into the populated areas are just looking for food.

“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,” Derderian said.

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

The bears that roam the nearby foothills are black bears by species, despite the fact their fur coats range in color from blond to black. Most black bears in the San Gabriel Valley are actually brown in color (as was Monday’s).

A Pasadena homeowner said he watched as a large black bear ripped a metal gate off its hinges, entered his backyard and attacked his pet rabbits in a May 23 incident near the Eaton Canyon Golf Course.

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 is 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.

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


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.

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