Emergency responders answered the familiar call last Thursday night, July 21, that a motorist had struck and killed a bear on Sierra Drive. The accident occurred around 9:30 p.m. as the bear apparently tried to cross Highway 198 between Kaweah Oaks Campground and River View Restaurant.
Information from witnesses at the scene reported that the 200-pound male black bear ran onto the roadway and was hit by two vehicles. The driver of a pickup truck that struck the animal called the CHP and remained at the scene of the accident. There were not injuries to the occupants of the vehicles reported.
The CHP officer notified the state Department of Fish and Wildlife as per agency procedure in these bear fatalities. Native American representatives were also notified, and on the following morning were permitted to take possession of the deceased bear.
Current law forbids any person from possessing a bear without a bear tag that has been obtained by a hunter licensed according to California regulations. Certified Native Americans in permitted situations may possess a deceased bear for religious purposes.
Last fall, during the great influx when more than 100 bears came to the Three Rivers environs in search of acorns and water, several bears were killed by motorists on local roadways. It became apparent that a protocol would be needed that emergency responders, Caltrans workers, and DFW game wardens would be in agreement as to what in fact is the appropriate response.
This policy is needed because some of the dead bears from 2015 ended up in dumpsters when they were removed from roadways by Caltrans workers.
Brandon Alisio, a game warden with DFW’s Visalia office arrived at the accident scene and extracted a diagnostic tooth from the dead bear and also removed a transmitter from the left ear.
“This is obviously a park bear so I’ll make sure they get their tracker back and the tooth for research,” Alisio said.
Warden Alisio also said it’s a new day in terms of how bears are being managed so there are policy changes in the works. He said that a procedure is currently being developed that will streamline the process as to what becomes of these animals that end up as traffic fatalities.
What’s going on with the local bear population? Here’s is what’s known based on recent sightings and the experiences of the great bear influx of 2015. A number of bears are in town or apparently making their way back to Three Rivers.
Bears are already in the areas along the Middle, North, and East forks of the Kaweah River that are contiguous with Sequoia National Park. In the past two weeks, bears have been reported on Dinely Drive, Kaweah River Drive, upper Sierra Drive, and the Mineral King Road area near Sierra King.
A Bear called M15. The bear that was killed Thursday, July 21, was seen in a photo posted on a Three Rivers Facebook page earlier that day with a garbage bag in the Washburn subdivision. Danny Gammons, Sequoia and Kings Canyon wildlife biologist, provided information on the subject bear:
The bear is identified as M15. We first captured him on June 16, 2015, in [Giant Forest] along the Sunset Rock Trail, after he was repeatedly observed around people. [At that time] he was estimated to be 2.5 to 4.5 years old. He had a fairly well developed frame but had low muscle mass and little fat, weighing only 95 lbs.
We elected not to fit him with a radio-collar, which can constrict the neck if there is substantial growth in the years following capture. Male bears can grow to well over 300 lbs., and there are a few individuals that have exceeded 500 lbs. in the Sierra Nevada.
Instead we fitted this bear with a small transmitter attached to his left ear. We also placed a green tag with the number 8 in his right ear, so he could be identified from a distance. He was released later that afternoon.
The next time he was detected (to our knowledge) was on July 21, 2016, when a picture was posted on Facebook [where the bear was shown] eating a bag of trash on Washburn Street. [That night] he was struck and killed in a vehicle collision across from the River View Restaurant.
Bear tooth: What lab analyses reveal. According to Gammons there is no information available yet for the tooth extracted from M15. At the end of the field season, M15’s tooth, along with others collected from bears, will be sent to a lab where it will be sectioned and stained, he said.
“Growth rings called cementum annuli are deposited annually on bear teeth (and the teeth of many other species) and can be counted in a fashion similar to rings on a tree. In female bears (M15 is a male), it is also possible to determine the years in which cubs were produced. The age at which females first breed, known as the age of primiparity, and how often they breed, known as the inter-birth interval, are important factors that drive population dynamics.”
Bear sightings down in local national parks. No bears have been sighted in Mineral King for several weeks. This is unprecedented for June and July among the recollections of old-timers in the historic cabin community.
Gammons estimates that bear sightings in Sequoia and Kings Canyon are down but it is not known by how much. Bear incidents (i.e., bear conflicts), according to Gammons, are down as well.
“While exact numbers of incidents and property damage are not available, my guess is that human-bear conflict is down 90 percent from last year and below an ‘average’ year.”
As for the reason for this, Gammons can only speculate. In 2015, the parks’ handled 30 bears, most of whom were in poor body condition. Their conditions improved dramatically after they fattened up on acorns and garbage in Three Rivers.
“We have not seen most of these bears in 2016, and I suspect many may have not survived the winter,” Gammons said.
According to confidential sources speaking to the Commonwealth, many bears were shot and killed illegally last year and at least one even intentionally hit by a vehicle in the South Fork area of Three Rivers. (“Bears being killed illegally in Three Rivers,” October 16, 2015, www.kaweahcommonwealth.com/news/bears-being-killed-illegally-three-rivers.)
When that story was first published in the Commonwealth, reliable sources who asked not to be identified documented that more than 50 bears were killed by local ranchers and residents.
Living in bear country. It is imperative that everything possible be done to ensure the survival of the local bear population. That begins with locking up all trash receptacles.
If you are perplexed on how to do this, contact the Bear Brigade (email bearproof3R@gmail.com). They can bear-proof trash cans for the cost of materials or, if needed, at no cost.
In 2015, the influx of bears didn’t begin in earnest until September. In 2016, they are arriving in July.
The reason for the early arrivals, even though there are more natural food sources available at higher elevations, is that these bears were here last year and remember the easy pickings around Three Rivers.
Don’t be part of the problem. Lock up your trash and be part of the solution.