Black bear snuck into 30 homes in South Lake Tahoe

He has several names: Yogi, Chunky, Hank the Tank Jake. Some people just call him the Big Guy.

What everyone can agree on is that the 500 pound black bear that roams around South Lake Tahoe, California has become a problem. Over the past seven months, the bear has caused property damage and entered nearly 30 homes in and near the Tahoe Keys waterfront neighborhood in search of food.

Because the bear has become habituated to humans and appears to regard them as an easily accessible food source, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has labeled it a “severely food habituated” conflict bear.

On Wednesday, members of a local homeowners association agreed to allow the state to use their properties to capture the bear, but it’s unclear what will happen once it’s contained. For one thing, traps recently set up in the neighborhood have proven unsuccessful in catching the wily bear, and the state is reevaluating its strategies.

After capture, the bear could be killed or relocated, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Any decision on what to do with the bear after its capture is at the discretion” of the state, department spokesman Peter Tira wrote in an email.

According to the ministry’s black bear policy, “adult bears may be poor candidates for placement [in a sanctuary] due to the chronic stress of adapting to captivity after living only in wild conditions.

Ann Bryant, who oversees the Bear League advocacy group, said the Tahoe Keys bear is docile and only forages for food.

“He is on a mission. You can tell he likes to eat,” Bryant said. “The Big Guy likes to eat where it’s easy to get food, and he doesn’t like to look for food.”

Bryant, who has lived in South Lake Tahoe for nearly 40 years, agrees the bear is a problem for the community and said it should no longer be allowed to roam. But she wants the bear transferred to an animal shelter.

Dr. Jackie Gai, veterinary director of the PAWS Sanctuary in Galt, Calif., said the organization was willing to place the bear but hadn’t heard from the state. The Department of Fisheries and Wildlife said all accredited facilities could be considered for relocation; As of Thursday, he said on his website, he had not identified a relocation option that met his criteria.

Joby Cefalu, a board member of the homeowners association who voted this week to consider a capture and euthanasia option, would prefer to see the bear moved but understands that might not work.

Killing a wild animal is a last resort, Cefalu said, but it’s always something the state would consider.

“No one on our council took the depredation situation lightly,” said Cefalu, who noted that he was not speaking for the entire council. “We don’t want anything to do with taking a bear out. We are made to coexist. Unfortunately, this is a human problem.

Human waste has urbanized wild animals like the Big Guy, and now these bears are fearless of humans.

“I would love to see this guy go to a sanctuary,” said Katherine Borges, a South Lake Tahoe resident of four decades. “Everyone wants the bear somewhere else. Most people love our bears and we don’t want to kill them.

A lack of secure trash cans or bear boxes has resulted in wildlife in the Tahoe Keys neighborhood scrounging food from trash cans, said nearby resident Brooke Laine.

“Killing the bear because we didn’t secure our own garbage just rubs everyone the wrong way,” said Laine, who doesn’t live in the neighborhood the bear is going to. “The bears just got used to having plenty of food available to them.”

Laine sees the threat of urbanized bears as one that affects all of South Lake Tahoe, not just one neighborhood.

“We care about how we treat wildlife. We care deeply about this. We are doing everything we can as citizens to protect our environment,” Laine said. “Euthanizing a bear that is not harmful to humans is a disservice to wildlife.”

On Friday, the Tahoe Keys bear broke into a house and snuck out a small window while searching for food. The police knocked outside the house until he reappeared and left.

Black bears are opportunistic feeders, said Toogee Sielsch, a 40-year resident of South Lake Tahoe who has become a go-to contact for locals. He is not a biologist but has become familiar with bear hazing techniques, such as making noise to get a bear off someone’s property.

It is not uncommon for bears to try to open windows or sliding doors to enter a home. But the Big Guy is a bit more direct.

“This bear goes through front doors, deadbolts and everything,” Sielsch said. “I wish there was an easy solution to this.”

Los Angeles Times

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