Caught on Camera: Electric Doormat Effectively Scares Away Bear

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE -- Lake Tahoe's bears are about to enter hyperphagia, a period when they greatly increase their calorie intake to prepare for winter.

Many of them look for that extra food in areas populated by people.

To minimize encounters between bears and humans, volunteers with the Bear League are busy responding to bear sightings in developed areas using aversion techniques to scare bears away from homes and humans.

Placing electric doormats in front of home entryways is one of the effective techniques. The doormats, available through Bear Busters and Wolfe's Handyman Services, have been placed in front of about two dozen homes this season by Toogee Sielsch, a Bear League trained responder.

Each of those homes had been entered by a bear prior to installation, Sielsch said.

"We bring it, we place it and we come back and get it at no charge to the homeowner or the tenant," Sielsch explained.

The mats, which are left in place for two weeks, won't shock a person wearing shoes. But to a bear's bare paws, they deliver a 12,000-volt shock, typical of livestock fencing. They don't injure the bear -- they teach it to stay away.

A surveillance camera at one of the South Lake Tahoe properties where a mat was placed recently showed a bear stepping on the mat, getting a shock and quickly running away. Sielsch said subsequent surveillance footage has confirmed the bear has not returned to that door.

"The key word here is volts, not amperage," Sielsch emphasized. "It's non-lethal."

During FOX40's Tuesday evening visit with Sielsch in South Lake Tahoe, he received a call about a bear in somebody's yard.

He responded and recognized it as the same bear in the surveillance video. Sielsch then scared the bear up a tree with loud aggressive words, another type of "tough love," sending a message to the bear that it shouldn't be comfortable around homes and people.

It maintains an important buffer between humans and wildlife for the safety of both.

"That's a very safe place for him right now," Sielsch said of the bear's perch in the branches. "He'll hang out there until it's quiet, and then he'll come down. When it's dark and quiet, he'll come down and move."

Six bears have been hit and killed by cars around South Lake Tahoe in the past eight weeks, according to Sielsch.

Ideally, the Bear League would like bears to stay in the forest, eating natural food, away from areas populated by people. But those wildlife experts are also realistic, knowing bears are opportunistic, finding food where it is easily accessible.

"We want to make sure that there's the least amount of human-bear conflict with the least amount of negative outcomes," Sielsch explained. "And so that's what we're working toward with our aversions and the electric bear mats that we put out."

Everyone living in and visiting the Tahoe area has a role to play in helping keep the bears wild and away from homes and cars.

"We have to secure our attractants," Sielsch advised. "We have to secure our spaces and our houses to not allow bears to have access into those places."

While driving around Lake Tahoe, motorists are urged to stay alert and avoid speeding, keeping in mind that bears may enter the roadway, often times a mother followed by cubs.

More information about Tahoe's Bear population is available on the Bear League website.