The Bear ambling through Humber Park. Photo by Tracy Philippi

Peaceful coexistence is the goal

The young black bear recently sighted in Idyllwild made his way here from Banning. He is believed to be a young male and is referred to as the “Rite Aid” bear since a picture of the bear was taken at the Rite Aid in Banning. He joins an existing and varied wildlife population with which Hill residents have learned to coexist.

Since black-bear populations primarily exist north of Interstate 10 in the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains, and have been rare south of the interstate since its construction, the bear likely crossed under the interstate in a river channel or other underground crossing accessible to wildlife, according to Kevin Brennan, wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. He noted that once bears have made it south of Interstate 10, they seldom cross back to the north side.

Now that the bear is in the San Jacinto range, it is likely to remain, roaming an average 186-mile-wide territory in search of food. Black bears can move quickly and have been clocked at speeds of over 30 miles per hour. They are inquisitive foragers, with strong memories regarding food sources or caches. They have incredibly strong senses of smell and can detect food at great distances. And since sense of smell is so strong, food within fenced or cooped enclosures can be an attractive and accessible source. Also, small pets in fenced yards could be easy prey if left outdoors with no ability to re-enter the house.

The bears are intelligent and inventive with regard to accessing food. They are adept at climbing, both trees and fences, in order to get to food sources. The more familiar bears are with humans, the more dangerous an encounter with a black bear can become, according to Brennan. Bears begin to identify humans with food sources and are not easily deterred from those sources by intervening humans. Proper outdoor storage of garbage or other food waste is essential in deterring a bear’s investigation of a home or backyard.

As reported in our June 1 edition, Brennan noted that once a bear settles down, it remains within an area of 1 to 3 miles in width with longer excursions to search for food. Brennan estimated the Rite Aid bear is probably 2 to 3 years old and weighs over 200 pounds.

  “We don’t relocate the bears once they are in wildland areas,” said Brennan. “And we don’t destroy a bear unless it is an imminent threat to public safety, and those occasions are relatively rare.”

Brennan noted that bears can be relocated from urban habitats to the nearest wildland area, as was the female black bear sighted in Indio. She was relocated to the Santa Rosa range. Brennan said bears can also be relocated if sighted too close to major freeways where they could pose danger to motorists.

There are, of course, concerns that residents, not accustomed to area wildlife, might have about bears being in the area, after years of relatively few incursions. But the San Jacinto Mountains are also home to mountain lions, bobcats, foxes and coyotes, long-term wild residents that require understanding, awareness and caution from coexisting humans.

A U.S. Forest Service Alaska website gives a good account of bear behavior and proper human interaction:

“Bears are curious, intelligent and potentially dangerous animals, but undue fear of bears can endanger both bears and people. Respecting bears and learning proper behavior in their territory will help so that neither you nor the bear will suffer needlessly from an encounter.

“Avoid surprising bears at close distance. Look for signs of bears and make plenty of noise. Avoid crowding bears. Respect their personal space. Avoid attracting bears through improper handling of food or garbage.

“If a bear remains in your space, identify yourself as a human, make noise, outstretch your arms to seem larger and don’t run. Like dogs, bears will pursue a running animal.”

Brennan said he would consider holding a public meeting, probably at the Nature Center, to answer residents’ concerns about our recent black-bear incursions.