The subject of human-bear interactions has been covered periodically in The Kaweah Commonwealth in recent months, including in the cover story last week which stated, “A record number of bears have been reported and have been spotted in every Three Rivers neighborhood during the last two weeks” [“Bears are on the prowl,” September 11, 2015]. As the wildlife biologist for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, I’d like to share some information from the parks to elaborate on just how rare of a “bear year” this has been and my thoughts on what this means for the town.
There have been more than 360 bear incidents (i.e., instances of human-bear conflict, such as a bear causing people to take evasive action, causing property damage, or obtaining human food) reported in the parks this year — a 200 percent increase over 2014. In most years, the majority of bear incidents tend to be restricted to a few isolated hot spots and involve a few individual bears.
In contrast, this summer, bear incidents have been widespread, from Cedar Grove to Mineral King and everywhere in between and have involved many different bears. We have captured more than 30 bears.
In an average year, we only capture 12. Most of the bears captured have been in fair to poor body condition.
I do not know for certain, but it seems likely that the cumulative effects of a multi-year drought have resulted in bears making riskier foraging decisions than usual. Bears have broken into dumpsters we previously thought were bear-resistant.
Food or trash left out that may have been ignored by bears in previous years has been consistently obtained, often with people just a few feet away. Numerous bears have entered park buildings — including National Park Service residences in the Buckeye housing area near the entrance to Sequoia National Park in Three Rivers. Some of these buildings were occupied by people at the time.
I suspect it likely that conflicts with bears will be on the rise in Three Rivers, just as they have been in the parks. There are already a couple of bears in town and more will likely show up. We are beginning to see them move to lower elevations in the parks as they search for acorns.
In addition, this is due to: (1) evidence that bears have been unusually determined to obtain human food this year, (2) much of Three Rivers’s trash is not stored in bear-resistant manner — it is available for the taking, and (3) during the fall, bears enter a period called hyperphagia in which their calorie consumption increases dramatically in preparation for the winter denning season.
While it may be simply a nuisance to have a bear knock over your trash can, it is a different matter altogether when a bear that has learned to feed on human food outside of a house becomes bold enough to enter one. In the end, this behavior can lead to substantial property damage, as well as the destruction of a bear.
Whether your interest is in protecting your property from damage, minimizing the number of bears killed under depredation permits, or both, let’s do our best to keep bears eating acorns — not human food and trash. There were some great tips on how to do this in last week’s cover story.