One of the attractions of living in Three Rivers is observing the parade of wild critters — deer, fox, coyotes, raccoons, turkeys, bobcats, and bear — but every so often one of those species becomes a little too comfortable with humans and gets too close for comfort. When that happens, especially in the case of a hungry bear that can do some serious damage, a distraught property owner is left with a difficult decision: get rid of what’s causing the bear to return night after night or get rid of the bear.
When you choose to live in wildland adjacent to a national park that is home to several hundred bears, a problem bear is inevitable. During a dry year with a small acorn yield and nonexistent seasonal water sources, bears are being spotted in Three Rivers daily. Undoubtedly, the first thing they notice is the scent of the evening’s leftover barbecue in the plastic trash containers lining the highway and byways throughout Three Rivers.
Black bears are highly intelligent. They know an easy meal when they see or sniff one.
A fed bear is a dead bear
The bears — a mother and two cubs — that died as a result of an incident occurring on the night of Tuesday, July 29, had reportedly become habituated to the Three Rivers food chain and already tasted garbage and then moved on to the cooped-up chickens, guinea fowl, ducks, and geese located on property that is within one mile of the Sequoia National Park boundary.
More than 40 birds were lost in several nights preceding the shooting of the sow, the owner reported. Damage to flocks and the coops was estimated to be in the hundreds of dollars.
“I really didn’t have much choice,” said the shooter who asked to be identified only as the landowner. “I’ve tried scaring the bears, chasing the bears, but after they got a meal they just repeated the behavior.”
The frustrated property owner applied to California Fish and Wildlife for a depredation permit. The permit included a provision to kill the cubs in addition to the mother bear, but the landowner said he fired one shot total and hit the adult bear.
“When I surprised the bear breaking in Tuesday night, I fired a single [rifle] shot,” the landowner continued. “I didn’t want to kill that bear but unlike others I’ve had here this one was determined to go on killing.”
He explained that he raises all of his own food and has tried everything short of electrical wire on his bird coop. He’s reluctant to use electricity in a tinder-dry environment, recalling the chicken coop fire on the North Fork that occurred in 2012.
According to a state Fish and Wildlife spokesperson, Greg Gerstenberg, since the sow was teaching her cubs to take fowl, the cubs were also included on the depredation permit. The corpses of the sow and her two cubs were collected from a neighboring property the next day but it has not been confirmed who actually fired the shots that killed the cubs. The landowner stated that he had witnessed the sow and cubs on his property but on the fateful evening only fired a single shot.
The property owner said he knows raising fowl is risky but he has taken all the steps to bear-proof his property. On most days, he takes his own garbage down the hill for disposal on his way to work.
“We all need to bear proof our properties. On any given morning there are several trash cans upside down where obviously a bear or some other wildlife have made a meal of someone’s garbage,” the property owner said. “Some of my neighbors just leave the cans curbside for easy pickings. If the cans were secured with chain or at night stored inside the garage the majority of this bear problem would not exist.”
This bear was destroyed only after the property owner felt he had exhausted all the options.
“This was a bear known to be a problem,” said the owner. “I tried all kinds of harassment to get her attention but the depredation permit was the only solution to the problem.”
According to Danny Gammons, wildlife biologist at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the bear that was shot was a 125-pound female, seven to 10 years old, and was in good health. She first came to his attention in 2012.
“That year was a bumper crop for acorns and several bears migrated to the foothills around Three Rivers,” Gammons said. “She was first captured and tagged with a green tag after a October 2012 incident.”
The subject female fell off the radar of parks’ biologists until this year when reports were received that the bear was seen in Three Rivers on Mineral King Road. The warden who collected the dead bears near the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River called Gammons and confirmed the number on the metal tag of the subject bear.
This incident brings the total to five park bears that have been killed this year as a result of interactions with humans. In addition to this incident, one bear had to be euthanized by park biologists and a cub was hit by a car.
“When bears come in contact with humans, the impact and damages can be minimized but they cannot be eliminated,”Gammons said.
Three Rivers has no rules or regulations as to how to bear-proof a property or trash cans. It is up to individual residents to be knowledgeable and responsible. There will be a community meeting in September to address this topic.