First sighting, a yearling bear, crossing a Pine Cove driveway. Photo by Scott Bump

Bear carvings in Idyllwild are abundant; their images establish an enduring fascination with these affectionate mountain charmers who exude an abundance of strength, confidence and leadership. The San Jacinto Mountains, once generously populated with black bears coexisting with native tribes, are a testimony to the frontier spirit embodied by early Idyllwild settlers and are, for the most part, a fond memory, memorialized most notably by the Idyllwild town monument.

Once upon a time, great bears roamed the San Jacintos. Identifying with their

presence and power led to their choice in 1846 for the California state flag.

Memorialized in Idyllwild by the annual Bear Festival circa 1950s, when a live bear was paraded through town and bear meat was offered at the barbecue, the event was endemic to the region’s wild spirit, proof indeed that Idyllwild was once a cutting-edge frontier.

Before May 2017, it had been 15 years since a bear was sighted in Idyllwild. But in early May of that year, two juvenile bears were observed in unlikely places; a male was spotted at the Rite Aid in Banning and a female was witnessed shopping a car dealership in Indio.

It didn’t take long for them to find their way to Idyllwild last summer, creating property damage and quite the buzz. The Indio bear’s proximity to the danger posed by I-10 necessitated her relocation to the nearest mountain habitat in the Santa Rosa Mountain area. Wildlife officials tranquilized the Indio bear, and ear-tagged and moved her to an area where she could safely roam and forage. The Rite Aid bear moved to Idyllwild and seems to have moved out of the greater area of his own volition, said California Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Kevin Brennan.

Brennan added, “We only relocate bears who are in danger from human behavior, such as freeways, power stations or any other human behavior that threatens their safety.”

In May, Scott Bump of Pine Cove and Nancy Carter of Fern Valley affirmed we have a yearling in our midst. Brennan estimates its age at 18 months, adding, “It’s the yearlings that create the most havoc in populated areas as they scavenge through available garbage, seed storage and generally wreak petty destruction to communities ill-prepared for them each summer. If they don’t find food in a populated area, they move on; their presence is historically short lived.”

On May 8 at 8:38 a.m., “a yearling, bear meandered across our driveway within 25 feet of where I sat safely ensconced behind glass,” recalls Bump. “Earlier that day, I was awakened by an earthquake, followed by this surreal sighting of a honey-colored brown bear. Who said rural living is boring?”

“Black bears [the only wild bears now in California] are large-bodied animals that have a small, narrow head, powerful limbs, and small ears,” according to CDFW. “Black bears vary in color from tan or brown to black.”

“My dogs woke me about 6 a.m. Tuesday, May 22, and that’s when I heard the racket,” said Carter. “The bear came on my deck, destroyed bird feeders, broke open and made short work of the contents in my bird food storage container. and devoured the acorns in the squirrels’ feeder. Yes, it’s a young bear, yes, it’s a honey-colored brown.” When asked where in Fern Valley, Carter said she lives near the Iron Garden on Wayne and recalled having a visitation at her home last year, too.

A yearling can put on another 100 pounds in the second year of life, said Brennan. Food sources include vegetable matter such as grasses, fleshy plants, berries, nut crops, grubs, fish and carrion. Bears have been known to quickly ambush small animals such as rodents, chipmunks and ground squirrels, digging them right out of the ground, and sometimes take a fawn.

On the exceedingly rare occasion that an adult bear becomes an imminent public safety threat by exhibiting aggressive behavior towards humans, it’s euthanized versus relocated, he said. This is because aggressive bears have been observed to repeat this behavior. This philosophy does not apply to bears found guilty of property destruction.

Last year, the Town Crier collected the following good advice: 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.