Tahoe is bear country. It’s up to residents to keep bears out of their homes

·3 min read

The term “Bear Attacks” sounds horrific and deadly — and that’s exactly why the media uses this sensational, although unrealistic, terminology. The so-called “attacks” at Lake Tahoe were not attacks at all. If they had been, we would have been left struggling in a wake of seriously mutilated dead people. The reality is, bears got into houses due to unlocked or open doors and windows, and people then blocked the bears’ only escape route.

Not one person at Tahoe has ever died at the paws of a bear. Recently, a homeowner was scratched, stitched and quickly released from the hospital. The bear in this case outweighed the person by 300 or 400 pounds, had huge teeth and claws, and possessed the strength of an entire football team. The woman was small, older and frail. If the bear had been “attacking” her, there is no doubt this woman would not have survived.

The truth behind this particular case is that the door was unlocked. The bear walked by, smelled food, heard no noises from within and easily entered. (Many homes in Tahoe are owned by people who are rarely here. The bears, who are very smart, know this.) Once inside, the bear went to the kitchen. The sounds from the kitchen woke up the woman, and she went to investigate, assuming it was her son. It wasn’t. It was a bear. She panicked, which is somewhat understandable, and inadvertently stood blocking the bear’s only way out. He also panicked and attempted to get past by pushing and swatting her out of his way. He ran off and has not been back.

Opinion

Bears don’t come into our homes to attack and kill us, they come in to raid our kitchens. If the doors are closed and locked and a bear tries to get in, he will make noise while attempting to break the door, and people inside will hear the racket before he makes entry. In investigating details of the other so-called “bear attacks,” the truth is made clear: The entry points were not secured.

There is a common sense saying here in Tahoe: If you don’t want bears in your house, close and lock your doors and windows.

What would be accomplished by killing every bear who enters a house? Another bear will quickly take their place, unless we kill all of them. Plus, killing simply encourages disrespect for wildlife, rather than teaching humans to behave responsibly while in bear habitat.

Most bears in Tahoe will enter a house if it’s easy, as they know there is food inside. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife cannot and would not condone a mass killing of an important native species. They believe, as the BEAR League does, that it is up to the supposedly intelligent human species to visit and live in the Tahoe National Forest respectfully, with basic knowledge about wildlife. People who refuse to do so do not belong in a forest. And vacationers who behave irresponsibly can go to Disneyland instead, where the animals are made of plastic.

The majority of Tahoe’s locals and visitors appreciate and respect the bears. We know you can’t take the wildlife out of the forest and still call it a wilderness. Most of us are more than willing to do our part to keep the bears out of our homes, and thereby keep them — and us — safe.

Killing bears accomplishes nothing when bad human behavior continues. Tahoe is Bear Country. Bears have always been here. No one has ever been killed by a wild black bear anywhere in California or Nevada in all of history, yet we humans kill many thousand bears each year. The dangerous beasts are us, not the bears.

Ann Bryant is founder and executive director of the 25-year-old BEAR League of Lake Tahoe, an NGO of over 2,500 members committed to the reachable goal of co-existence between humans and bears within Bear Territory. It has been featured internationally on National Geographic, PBS and Animal Planet.

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