Officers from the Placer County Sheriff's Office in North Lake Tahoe, California are used to receiving calls involving unusual break-ins. Just last week, deputies rushed to the aid of a homeowner whose kitchen was being raided by a hungry bear:

The bear burglar broke into a home in Northstar on Thursday (May 3), climbed onto the kitchen counter and began casually scoffing down fruit and bread – unperturbed by an officer banging on a nearby window. The sheriffs eventually managed to chase the bear off, but not before it had helped itself to a hearty meal and made a mess of the kitchen.

Black bears hibernate for up to eight months of the year (yes, there is still some debate about whether or not they are true hibernators, but most experts now agree that their lengthy winter chill-out period can safely be called hibernation). During this time, they don't eat, drink, or do that thing that bears are supposed to do in the woods, and their heart rate can drop to about eight beats per minute.

When they finally emerge from that lengthy slumber, they'll usually start venturing out to find food (and people's homes are an easy target). Bears can be problematic in the Tahoe Basin area, often lured out of the Sierra wilderness by the prospect of a calorie-rich meal discarded in a residential trashcan. More recently, as local homeowners have become more diligent about securing garbage in bear-proof bins or stashing it in the garage away from prying claws, the bears in the area have honed their house-burgling skills.

“The ease (with which) they can get in ... shows that it’s a learned pattern, and it’s taught generationally,” Jack Robb, deputy director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife, told the Sacramento Bee earlier this year. Trash is harder to find, but the local bears are up for the challenge.

Black bears regularly raid residential areas in search of a trashy meal. Image: Rachid H

Bear break-ins are become more commonplace in Tahoe often resulting in extensive damage to property (and occasionally to residents). The Bear League, a local non-profit made up of volunteers and community members, respond to “bear calls” as well as offering residents and tourists advice on how best to keep the bears at bay, but human-wildlife conflict is rarely an uncomplicated issue.

Many residents accuse the local bear advocates of abusing their unsanctioned role as saviours of Tahoe’s bears, and would like to see stricter measures enforced when animals break into people’s homes. Just across the state border, Nevada wildlife officials have a zero-tolerance policy when in comes to bear break-ins: if a bear is believed to be a threat, it will be terminated.

In California, wildlife officers are far more reluctant to kill a “problem bear”. If a bear becomes a threat, residents can apply for a depredation permit to have it trapped (provided they have first taken the necessary steps to keep the bear off their property). According to some residents, local advocacy groups harass those who apply for permits, and it’s often not worth the trouble.

Steve Torres, a Department of Fish and Wildlife supervisor who oversees the agency's wildlife conflict programs, claims that an absence of resources in the Tahoe area means that the advocacy groups have a bit more leeway to take the reins. “We’re kind of in a difficult situation because if the homeowners don’t request a depredation permit, then our options are limited. There’s a lot of bears running around in there, and we can’t monitor all of them,” he said.

While this bear burglary seemed to pose little real threat to the homeowners, bears in the area are becoming more bold and with residents, wildlife agencies, and advocacy groups at loggerheads about the best solution, the stage seems set for more bear encounters in the future.


Top header image: Pixabay