Wildlife Biologist Kevin Brennan of the California Department of Fish and Game spoke to the public about the bear seen around the Hill and the potential problems facing the community. Photos by John Drake

The arrival of the Banning Rite Aid bear in Idyllwild has aroused the interest and curiosity of a large local audience. It was a capacity and overflow crowd that turned out to hear California Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Kevin Brennan talk about black bears in general and our bear in particular at the Idyllwild Library at 5 p.m. Thursday, July 27. Audience stretched through the Community Room door into the library all the way to the circulation desk.

Brennan had one message he repeated over and over during his talk. “Don’t leave unsecured garbage or food sources available or the bear, with a strong sense of smell, will find them,” said Brennan. He related in one instance that bears smelled a dead elk 14 miles away and traveled there for the carrion. “You cannot hide food smells,” he stressed. “And you’re definitely not helping out bears by feeding them.” Bears can quickly become habituated to areas where multiple food sources, especially garbage, are left unsecured. “That is what creates problems,” he said. “Once they find food, they’ll keep coming back.

“You have to be bear aware,” he said. “Prevention [securing garbage in bear-proof containers] is the way to go. But it requires 100 percent cooperation. Communities that take this seriously and secure garbage do not have bear problems.” Brennan elicited laughs when he reminded attendees that secured trash containers only work if the lids are closed.

He noted that bears are dawn-to-dusk active and like early evening time especially. He said adult black bears are normally not aggressive and that their natural defense mode is to climb a tree. “A dog can tree a bear,” Brennan noted.

“The biggest problems are yearlings. They’re the most aggressive toward humans. And the more a bear is rewarded with free food, the more aggressive he becomes and the more difficult it will be to dissuade him from pursuing the food. Bear problems don’t become serious until they are getting free handouts.”

Brennan talks to a packed house at the Idyllwild Library. More than 75 people, spilling over into the library reception area, showed up to hear him speak.

Brennan noted that San Bernardino County, where there are more black bears, has an ordinance prohibiting leaving unsecured food sources outdoors. “There is no such law in Riverside County,” he said.

Brennan estimates the Rite Aid bear is a male of about 3-5 years of age. At this time, there are no yearlings on the Hill. Brennan noted there were two bears sighted recently at Long Valley near the Tram station. Brennan said at this point he is only aware of two bears, the Rite Aid bear and the Indio/Bermuda Dunes female that was relocated to the Santa Rosa range.

An audience member asked if bears can climb fences. “They can pull a car door apart and even uproot a chainlink fence,” he said. “They are very powerful.” He advised keeping outdoor grills as clean and free of food odors as possible to minimize the attraction to bears.

“We do not relocate bears or distribute them to other parts of the state,” said Brennan. The Indio female was near Interstate 10 and posed a danger to motorists. She was taken to the nearest habitat, the Santa Rosas.

“Some people just see a bear and believe it’s a public threat,” said Brennan. “It’s not. And a bear’s depredation of a car, house, pet or agriculture is not a public-safety threat. For us to intervene and kill a bear, it must be an imminent threat to public safety, to human life — a threat at that time,” he stressed.

There are 35,000 black bears in California, said Brennan. And the leading cause of bear mortality is being killed by another bear.