Demand surges for bear-proofing services on Lake Tahoe homes

Local News

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KTXL) — California black bears are thriving in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Their numbers are estimated to be in the hundreds, and they are very skilled at getting into homes and cabins, looking for food.

“I bear-proof homes for a living,” said Ryan Welch, the owner of Bear Busters. “It’s difficult to keep up with calls and the work.”

Welch designs, manufactures and installs discreet wiring around windows and doors to keep the bears out.

“It’s an electric fence energizer. It’s been used for cattle and livestock for over 100 years, and we’re just modifying this to work on people’s homes,” Welch explained. “We put these wires in key locations where we know a bear interacts with a door or a window.”

Bear Busters owner Ryan Welch adjusts an electrified fence covering the patio door of a Lake Tahoe home.

Sometimes those locations include the third floor.

“It is really simple for a bear to stand on a handrail and gain access to an upper story deck,” Welch said.

In front of sliding glass doors, Welch installed removable electric bungee cords at a strategic height.

“Our goal is to keep a bear out of the home. And if we had the cables too high and a bear breached the door, they walk right under them,” Welch said.

For the front door, he makes electrified doormats which are no problem for rubber-soled shoes but are shocking for bear paws.

“If they step on the electric mat, or if they touch the electric bungee cords, they just kind of bolt from the property,” Welch said.

Photo of an electrified mat that’s used to detour bears placed in front of a door to a Lake Tahoe home.

On the Bear Busters YouTube channel, viewers can see how bears are smart enough to turn doorknobs and they give a glimpse of the damage they do when they get inside a home.

“When they get food sources, they will return. They will keep returning until something changes and deters them from the property,” Welch said.

When a bear touches electrified wires, the jolt is enough to send a strong message but not enough to cause injury.

“It can’t harm the bear. Yes, it hurts, but it doesn’t do any physical harm to an animal or a human being,” Welch explained.

The proximity to nature attracts many people to Lake Tahoe but locals would like more visitors to realize bears are part of the deal.

“Don’t resent the animals for being here. They are here. They make it what it is. They make it wonderful,” said Ann Bryant, the director of the BEAR League.

The BEAR League is a Tahoe-based nonprofit that works tirelessly to educate people about Tahoe’s bear population.

“This is the forest. There are wild animals here. There are very smart bears here. And we have to do what we can to keep them out of trouble and to make ourselves and them be safe,” Bryant said.

During fall, the bears are looking to store up calories for their winter naps and their powerful sense of smell leads them to food wherever it is.

Bryant said 2021 has been one of the busiest seasons she has ever seen in terms of bears getting into homes.

“I think it’s because there’s more people, not because there’s more bears,” Bryant said.

In one case that received a lot of publicity, a Tahoe Vista homeowner was clawed in the face when she and a bear startled each other in the kitchen.

Bryant recommends electric wiring as the best way to fully protect a home, but the systems are currently in such high demand that Bear Busters is booked solid through the winter.

Welch is putting homeowners on a waiting list for spring.

For those who might have to wait, the BEAR League has a stash of electric mats people can borrow at no cost.

“The goal is to remind these bears that homes are not safe. You don’t want to approach a door or a window thinking you’re going to get in and get the ice cream. It’s going to hurt,” Bryant explained.

There are simple things every Tahoe resident and visitor can do for the safety of themselves, their property and the bears.

“I wish every homeowner up here would recognize that we’re living in bear country and recognize that our bears have adapted to living around us quicker than we’ve adapted to living with them and be more proactive about securing and protecting their houses,” Welch said.

Bryant also gave additional advice

“Close your windows, close your doors, lock them. Don’t stand in a bear’s escape route if he does get in. Call for help. Educate yourselves before you come here. Be prepared,” she said.

Welch stressed the importance of making it difficult for bears to come onto the property.

“Couple that with an electrical fence system, the bears are getting a negative association with your property. And eventually they just start walking by your house looking for easier opportunities,” Welch explained. 

Bear Busters and the Bear League have a lot of educational resources about bears on their websites.

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