Bear Activity on the Rise

The Black Bear population is Humboldt County has been determined to be stable, not increasing nor decreasing. Wildlife Biologist Dave Lancaster said, currently there are approximately four migrating bears per square mile./Photo courtesy of Pamela Mattz

The Black Bear population is Humboldt County has been determined to be stable, not increasing nor decreasing. Wildlife Biologist Dave Lancaster said, currently there are approximately four migrating bears per square mile./Photo courtesy of Pamela Mattz

By RHONDA BIGOVICH, Two Rivers Tribune

In a drought year wildlife can tend to migrate closer to water sources, and this year is no different. Locally, people up and down the rivers are reporting increased bear activity in their yards.

Black bears are common to this area. Food and water attract bears leading them to people’s yards. Fruit trees, pet food, and salmon are some of the black bears favorite meals.

A mature black bear can reach 150-200 pounds, and although the black bear can be intimidating, California has a lower rate of bear attacks on humans than anywhere else in the United States.

Mark Higley, Hoopa Valley Tribal Wildlife Biologist said he has not had a lot of reports come across his desk.

“We have not been tracking bears for some time,” Higley said. “So, it is hard to say if the same bears are coming back into yards or not. In other studies we have seen 25 bears frequent the same locations and they all look very similar.”

Bears are an interesting animal. Studies are being conducted on bear comprehension, and though they seem to learn rather quickly, it is still unknown what type and how much information they have the ability to comprehend.

Higley said in this area bears tend to live much older.

“The oldest bear that I have seen was 31 years old.,” Higley said. “People in Hoopa do not usually hunt bears, but will if bears continually threaten their home.”

Hoopa resident Pamela Mattz said, “They used to come into the yard two at a time every year, now they are in my yard constantly.”

Mattz said one younger bear is especially comfortable in her yard. So comfortable she can get close enough to see its face clear in order to distinguish that it is the same bear. It does not scare easy, and comes as close as 30 feet to Mattz.

“He just hangs around playing. He looks to be real young and healthy and has a really pretty coat,” Mattz said. “This guy is particularly funny because he plays like a puppy. He doesn’t sound like a puppy.”

“He comes everyday at this point.” Mattz said. “And he plows through everything. He cleans everything, and he will stand there and stare at me. I watch for as long as I can before he freaks me out. I don’t know if he was going to attack or what he might do. Although he seems really mellow, he still is a wild animal.”

Next year she plans to better secure her garden, but she considers the bear to be her friend she doesn’t want to hurt her visitor.

The Two Rivers Tribune asked its Facebook followers if they had any problems with bears. Within a few short minutes more than a dozen people responded with their bear stories.

Darcy Padilla said, “A mama bear and two cubs frequently show up on Telescope Hill in Hoopa. They aren’t scared of you. They just go about their business like they are one of us hanging out. It’s kind of scary, but the cubs are just too cute.”

The bears might be cute, but they are not exactly cuddly or friendly. More aggressive behavior is being reported.

Shelly Middleton said, “The bears tried to break into the house. The kids were awoken to the sounds of scratching at the back door and thought it was a dog. When my daughter went to open it, she decided to look out the window first since the scratching sounded so loud. Thankfully she did cause it was one of the two cubs at the back door. She then went to the bedroom window to get a closer look and started filming from her cell phone. When the mother bear noticed my daughter in the window the mama bear charged at the window.”

“They came back later that day,” she said. “Relatives called Hoopa Forestry and they were told to dispose of the bear themselves because they no longer have a program to help.

Dave Lancaster a wildlife biologist with the State Department of Fish and Wildlife, said despite an increase in bear stories, the population has not changed.

Compared to other states black bears are hunted lightly in California and they are not hunted enough to have a noticeable impact on the population.

Last year’s bear hunting quota was not met. Some people say the new state ban on using hounds to hunt bear will eventually cause over population to become an issue. But Lancaster said hunting quotas are typically not met anyway.

A mother bear can have up to three cubs every two years and remain fertile for ten years. The survival of bear cubs lies strictly on the mama bear and on her ability to protect, nurture and feed them.

“We often get complaints that there is increased bear activity, but generally it is just a more frequented location. The increase is not more, it is just a more favorable spot for the bear to venture,” Lancaster said.

Lancaster suggests keeping garbage locked up, picking fruit up off the ground and refraining from leaving pet food outside. He said even the grain in bird feeders attracts bear to your home.

“If you pick up the fruit from the ground, they will go for fruit further up on the tree, breaking limbs and destroying the tree,” Higley said. “I’m kind of hoping that the acorns will drop soon, and the bears will go back out in the woods. We have already found some bear scat with acorn in it.”


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