Evan King, wildlife biologist with California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told a Three Rivers Town Hall audience on Monday night (Sept. 5) that conflicts with wildlife are accelerating in all mountain and foothills areas due to the persistent drought.
King, whose territory includes Tulare and Kings counties, said there is little natural feed like berries and acorns so wildlife, especially black bears, are actively seeking alternative food sources. Those alternative food sources often include human garbage from unsecured trash containers.
“The average black bear will weigh 300 pounds but the bears we are seeing this season are underweight and in a state of semi-starvation,” King said. “This time of year each bear needs 15,000 to 20,000 calories daily in preparation for hibernation and the winter months.”
King said both the intentional and unintentional feeding of bears is against the law. As a biologist he doesn’t have the authority to make an arrest but Mike Conley, the area’s sworn officer and game warden, does and frequently makes arrests and issues citations.
“Everything a bear does is driven by this insatiable need for food,” King said. “A bear spends its entire existence acquiring food or breeding.”
Bears have a keen sense of smell and can detect a food source from great distances.
“If a bear gains access to human food even once, it becomes habituated to the dense calories and begins to lose its natural fear of humans,” King said. “That’s when they often become aggressive and dangerous and can easily break into a car or a home.”
King said if a bear ever gets into your house exit the premises immediately, call 911, and try to leave a way out for the bear. No permit is needed to shoot the bear if it’s in your house or if you feel your safety is threatened.
In a typical year one to three bears are destroyed in the Three Rivers area.
A depredation permit to destroy a bear is issued if there is property damage or if pets or livestock are killed, King said.
“We don’t relocate bears because they are known to travel great distances and often return to where they first became habituated to human food,” King said. “The agency does try to educate bears and keep them wild.”
King also reported that there are at least 35,000 black bears in California so the problem is not likely to go away.
“The key to keeping bears wild is proper storage of food and trash,” King said. “Also, it’s critical to minimize things that attract bears like bird feeders or pet food that is left outside and unsecured freezers in garages, on porches, or in outbuildings.”
Deterrents for bears include motion-sensing floodlights and a radio playing. Electric fencing or floor mats that are electrically charged are also effective.
But the key is getting everyone to take responsibility for securing their trash. The best-case scenario is to place the garbage can on the road the morning of pick-up, King said. It was also suggested that some types of garbage be frozen prior to its disposal the morning of collection.
In a previous conversation, Isaac Kulikoff, a spokesperson for Mid Valley Disposal, said it’s the company’s policy to encourage everyone to secure the garbage containers. But if the cans and dumpsters are secured they need to be unlocked, preferably just prior to being emptied.
For wildlife-related questions or more information, contact Evan King at (559) 972-7835 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.