There are hundreds of black bears in the Lake Tahoe region, and they’re eating enormous amounts of food to prepare for hibernation.
There are hundreds of black bears in the Lake Tahoe region, and they’re eating enormous amounts of food to prepare for hibernation.

The Lake Tahoe region is home to hundreds of black bears, and, as summer cools down, they’re getting especially hungry. It’s an annual biological process.

“It’s hyperphagia,” aid Ashley Sanchez, the public information officer for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “They’re getting ready to go into hibernation, so they need to fatten up. … They eat upwards of 25,000 calories a day. And it always happens when there’s also an explosion of berries and fruits on trees.”

That’s why, this time of year, NDOW is busy getting the word out for residents to pick berries and fruit on their properties.

“What we want people to do is pick the fruit right as it’s ripe, and also keep the dropped fruit from your trees picked up off the ground,” Sanchez said. “Another thing people can do that is actually a great solution—we promote it heavily—is electric fencing. You put it around the bottom of your trees and around your gardens.”

NDOW will help install electric fencing for Nevada residents. But the bears aren’t just after berries. According to Jason Holley, a senior supervising wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, black bears are opportunistic omnivores, and “sometimes their natural food availability isn’t the whole story.”

“Why would they spend up to eight hours a day in the wild foraging for all of these calories they need during hyperphagia, if they can get everything from breaking into a house or going through a dumpster in an hour or less?” he said.

According to Holley, black bears are adapted to exploit human food resources. And, unfortunately, that can lead to problems for both bears and people.

Both the CDFW and NDOW recommend residents invest in wildlife-resistant trash cans. In Washoe, Carson and Douglas counties, Sanchez said, there are ordinances requiring them. Other advice from Sanchez and Holley includes keeping vehicle and home doors locked and not leaving food lying about—even inside. Lake Tahoe black bears have showed their willingness to “bearglarize” homes.

“In … the greater Homewood area, on the west shore, we have had more than 20 reported break-ins of bears since the Fourth of July,” Holley said.

Holley said the number of bear break-ins has increased alongside Tahoe’s human population. He estimates there have been at least 100 bear break-ins or attempts on the California side of the lake this year. And when bears get into houses, he said it’s important for people to heed this advice:

“Don’t try to scare it off as you might if you’re hiking in the woods,” he said. “If there’s a bear in your house, get out of your house or otherwise secure yourself within your house … and then call the authorities.”

A quick Google search of “black bears Lake Tahoe” brings up a non-profit bear advocacy group called Bear League among its top hits. The group’s website lists a phone number people can call for “bear emergency.” But Holley and Sanchez don’t recommend this. For California residents and visitors, Holley said, call CDFW. Nevada residents should call NDOW.

“We all work to get messaging out there, but we have our biologists here, so we prefer that people call us—and … it also goes to our data,” she said. “We love that we live with bears. … We just want to make sure we keep them wild and out of neighborhoods.”

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