by MaryEllen Schoeman
I know we all love to see ‘our’ neighborhood bears and it’s fun to watch them. But… the bears in many Altadena neighborhoods, especially those along the edges of the forest, have surpassed the carrying capacity for the land. That means that the populations of bears in those areas are more than the land can actually support. This means that people are feeding them. Some people, I’m sure, are feeding them accidentally by leaving dog food out or leaving unsecured sheds or garages where food is stored. But I am equally sure that some people are feeding them deliberately.
I’m begging you, please stop. These bears are becoming far, far too habituated to humans and are now seeing human habitations as a food source. Bears are cute, but they are not harmless. I recently made the mistake of leaving a bag of dog food outside – I thought that since it was in a big plastic tub, and that tub was latched tight and locked inside of a welded wire cage, it would be okay for just one night. A bear came that night, dragged the cage for several feet (this cage is so heavy it took four big guys just to shove it out of the back of a pickup truck), and then bent the door at both top and bottom until it could get to the food. This is not a wimpy little cage made of chicken wire or hardware cloth, it was a cage of heavy-gauge welded wire. The bear bent the door like it was nothing. I have also found bears sleeping in my carport several times, which indicates that they are getting used to sleeping in human-constructed places. This is terribly unsafe, both for the bears and for the humans – approaching your car at dawn and clicking your car alarm? Could result in a very confused, frightened bear charging out of the carport at the only exit it knows – right where you are standing.
If you have been feeding bears, or letting them sleep on or around your deck, porch, etc., it is essential that you stop before a big disaster happens. Don’t let the recent ‘successful’ darting and relocation of the Glendale or Duatre bears fool you into thinking that this is what will happen if one of ‘our’ bears gets too bold. It is usually not done (the Department of Fish and Game needed some good PR after the Santa Monica mountain lion debacle). That is not what we want for our bears, nor do we want them killed for being ‘problem’ bears.
Remember that feeding bears can lead to human tragedy, too. Remember the story from several years back of an elderly lady who had been feeding them Most reports of bears breaking into houses and killing people are also because people had been feeding them.
This is the time of year when young bears would naturally begin to disperse to new areas, in search of food and other resources. But if there is plenty of food around, they will not disperse, resulting in ever-increasing populations. But, that also makes this time of year a good time to start cutting back on feeding them. Cut back gradually, and then start putting food out on an irregular pattern, one night but then not for a few nights, etc., until you stop completely. The bears don’t need food or shelter from you. They need to be allowed to go live the life that nature intends for them.
I am far from an expert on bears but I am deeply concerned about all our native wildlife, and the explosion in the bear population does not bode well for them, or for us.
MaryEllen Schoeman is a Meadows resident and wildlife rehabilitator.