Coexisting with a bear

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Mike and Victoria Duron think a bear visited their home on South Circle and Scenic Tuesday night. They found these claw marks on their wooden fence the next day.
Photo by Jack Clark

By Lista Duren

Special to the Town Crier

The black bear featured on last week’s cover continues to roam the Idyllwild area. It showed up at the Tisos’ Mountain Center ranch around Wednesday, May 10, but they didn’t see it for several days.

First, Allan Tiso noticed that the food for the barn cats had been tipped over and dragged. A few days later, two chickens disappeared. Thinking he was stopping a coyote, Tiso put the other chickens in a heavy rabbit hutch and weighted it with cinder blocks. Easily, the bear turned over the hutch and tore off the lid — this was his undoing.

The day they finally saw the bear, Tiso said, “We sat down to dinner at the same time he sat down to dinner.” The family looked out the window and saw their new “chicken coop” turned over with the bear almost totally inside eating the chicken food, having already eaten the remaining chicken.

Finally understanding who the visitor was, the Tisos made the necessary changes to protect their ranch and encourage the bear to return to the wild. They put their metal garbage cans and metal pet food cans in a small building, and observed that the bear didn’t like the electric fencing that protects their other livestock. The clean-up worked.

On Thursday or Friday, May 18 or 19, the bear left the Tisos. He checked residences in Fern Valley and continued to Humber Park. After that, he reversed direction. He swung by the Tisos and slid open the barn door looking for the cat food which was now not only in a metal canister but also hanging from a stout hook, just out of reach. A few claw marks are the only evidence that the bear came back. He didn’t stay.

Following its nose, the bear showed up in Garner Valley on Wednesday, May 24, looking for residents or campers who might not be as bear aware as the Tisos.

This is the first bear seen in the Idyllwild area in more than 15 years. Where did it come from and how did it get here? We talked to Kevin Brennan, wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, to get the bear facts.

Two bears have been sighted recently in nearby urban areas: Banning at the Rite Aid on Thursday, May 4, and Indio at the Ford Agency on Sunday, May 14. Wildlife officials tranquilized the Indio bear, ear-tagged it and moved it to the nearest mountain habitat in the Santa Rosa Mountains. The Banning bear continued its own trek into the woods.

Brennan confirmed, from Tiso’s photos, that the bear visiting Idyllwild came from Banning. It is the same color, with the same large white blaze on its chest, and it has no ear tags. It made its way here from Banning on its own.

Why are we suddenly seeing bears in these parts? Brennan confirmed that there is no native bear population in the San Jacinto Mountains. “They live in the San Bernardino Mountains, north of I-10.” He says, “Their primary food is grass which cures at this time of year, so they’re foraging. Also, the young are dispersing, and yearling males travel long distances. Their range is 186 miles.”

Bears rarely travel south of the I-10 freeway. The last time the Town Crier reported bears in Idyllwild was the summer of 1999 when one showed up at Stone Creek and Buckhorn Camp. Brennan also remembers the Idyllwild bear in 1999, as well as “a couple of years in the early 2000s” when there were bears in the vicinity. But he said, “This is the first time we’ve ever had a bear show up in Indio.”

He said it doesn’t work to transport them back to the San Bernardino Mountains, though. “We don’t relocate bears. They won’t stay where we put them; they wander.” Brennan continued, “Once the bear settles down, its area is 1 to 3 square miles.”

As interesting as it might seem to have a bear visit Idyllwild, this wild animal has already shown that it can damage property and eat farm animals. If it gets acculturated to humans, it will become problematic.

While this bear is exploring the area near Idyllwild, our job is to discourage it from taking up residence in or near town, Brennan said. “Bears have a keen sense of smell,” he said. “They will go after fruit, pet food, hummingbird feeders, human food and compost piles. Put these things away or get rid of them. Clean your grills. Secure your garbage or take it to the dump. Rid your yard of odors that might attract the bear.”

Bear precautions in town:

  • Remove/put away anything edible or smelly
  • Garbage: Use bear-proof containers until pick-up or dump run
  • Food: Keep indoors in odor-free containers, put away picnic leftovers
  • Pet food and bird-feeder: Store indoors
  • Fruit trees: Protect with electric fencing, pick up fallen fruit
  • Compost piles: Remove them

Bear precautions at campsite or trail:

  • Food: Put it in bear-proof containers or in a car trunk, not in your tent
  • Camp: Clean up immediately after meals
  • Hiking: Make enough noise to avoid surprising a bear
  • Bear encounter: Don’t approach, don’t run away. Make noise and appear as large as possible. Give the bear space to leave.

Bear information on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website at:

wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Black-Bear and wildlife.ca.gov/Keep-Me-Wild

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  1. Don’t make Idyllwild into a SANCTUARY city for the bears.
    Don’t feed them.
    Put electric fence. hmm.

    Reply

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