Lake Tahoe wildlife expert gives tips to protect against bears scavenging before winter

Local News

TAHOE CITY, Calif. (KTXL) — Wildlife experts are offering advice to residents in the Lake Tahoe area to protect against bears.

Home surveillance video from Tahoe City resident Bonnie Lofstedt shows she’s well-acquainted with her neighborhood bears.

“They’ve been so rampant here before that they’ve tried biting off the trim to our windows to get in,” Lofstedt said.

She now has an electric fence around her house that has just enough of a charge to scare a bear away.

But on a recent night she had a friend visiting who left a car door unlocked with a small cooler inside, which attracted a wild bear.

“Then I rapped on the window. I tried to act like a big snow bear myself. And he looked at me and said, ‘OK, I’ll go but I’m just going to take this blue cooler with me,’” Lofstedt said.

Experts told FOX40 that bear encounters have a tendency to become even more common in the fall as the bears are entering a stage called hyperphagia. That’s when they’re storing up extra calories they’re going to need for the winter.

“And that could be upwards of 20 to 25,000 calories a day. That’s mind-boggling, even for an animal that’s 400 pounds,” said Toogee Sielsch of the Sierra Wildlife Coalition.

Sielsch keeps track of the bears around South Lake Tahoe and teaches people how to coexist with them.

“It’s ramping up more and more. Our urban bear population is growing,” Sielsch said.

Sielsch has captured some amazing images on strategically placed wildlife cameras. He said not only is the bear population growing in numbers — well into the hundreds in the Tahoe Basin by some estimates — but the bears themselves are growing larger.

“Our males get up pushing 500-plus pounds sometimes and that’s unheard of in the black bear world,” Sielsch said.

Bears, with their incredible sense of smell, are finding easy access to food in areas populated by humans and there are things people can do to help discourage that.

They should lock doors and make sure food is inaccessible to avoid making a new 400-pound friend.

“People kind of forget. They see these black bears kind of just walking along slowly and they don’t realize A, how intelligent they are, and B, how agile they are,” Sielsch explained. “And how adept they are and the dexterity they have with their paws and their mouth. And the things they can do and the things they can open, especially once they’ve learned something like opening a car door.”

“They’ll go down the street and try every single car door down the street. It can be nothing more than a couple of Cheerios stuffed into a seat that a bear breaks into a car for,” Sielsch continued.

Sielsch urges drivers to watch out for bears when visiting Lake Tahoe and said at least a dozen bears have been hit and killed by cars in 2020 on the south side of the lake.

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