Bear aversion study under way at Lake Tahoe


By Kathryn Reed

Bears are smart animals. They learn where easy food is, but they can also learn they aren’t wanted in houses, dumpsters or vehicles.

“The alternative is a lead bullet,” Mario Klip, bear biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game, said if bears don’t learn their lesson.

Klip is working with his two Karelian bear dogs in the wild on aversion techniques. He believes a nip in a bear’s butt by one of the trained dogs is better than any type of bullet fired at a bear.

He likes using what he calls a “hard release” of a bear that has been trapped and then is released. His dogs, Villa and Sasha, chase the bear, nipping at it, barking. The idea is to create an experience the bear doesn’t like.

Klip said people need to create a less than welcoming environment for neighborhood bears. The obvious is to not leave trash out for bears to get into.

Mario Klip with the California Department of Fish and Game talks Jan. 12 about bears. Photo/LTN

“You need to make sure the animal knows it’s your (house). That you don’t want them. You need to make the bear feel uncomfortable,” Klip said. “You want to limit the undesirable behavior.”

Bears like high caloric foods and ones that smell good. Ice cream, peanut butter and syrup are three of the favorite foods they like to forage for in houses and garbage.

Besides bears’ being a nuisance and distributing garbage about, they take the debris into the woods. This can alter the ecosystem a bit because they are dragging food scraps into the woods instead of eating berries or some other natural food source.

However, in Klip’s studies he has found bears are not solely reliant on garbage, that their scat shows they are eating food that would be normal in their diet.

Nearly 50 people turned out Jan. 12 to hear Klip talk about the work he is doing in Tahoe with bears. The American Association of University Women sponsored the presentation at Lake Tahoe Community College.

Klip is using his research at Tahoe on bear aversion techniques to help him obtain a doctorate from UC Berkeley. While other places in the world are using dogs for bear aversion, he is the only in California doing so.

“There is a global phenomenon that people believe wildlife have intrinsic value. You can’t kill it just because it annoys you,” Klip said.

While the state agency he works for has a rule on the books that a black bear can be killed if it attacks a human, the reality is humans have usually done something to anger the bear. It could be that a bear is in a house, but a person is blocking the exit so the bear takes a swipe. The bear can then be put down. Or it could be a person has food in their tent and a bear goes after it – and inadvertently the person. Again, the bear can pay the ultimate price.

Klip said bears in Lake Tahoe don’t stalk people. However, that’s not true in other states.

“In more remote areas humans are prey,” Klip said, like Alaska. These are places where bears haven’t see humans, and therefore see them as a potentially tasty morsel. “Every bear in California has seen a human.”

The biologist believes coyotes are more dangerous than bears.

It’s estimated between 300 and 500 bears are in the basin.

While hunting bears caused an outcry when Nevada changed its rules a couple years ago, the state allows 10 bears to be killed, while California’s total is about 2,000, Klip said.  New in California as of Jan. 1 is the ban on using dogs during a hunt to tree a bear.











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Comments (14)
  1. Old Long Skiis says - Posted: January 16, 2013

    Bears and trash. Nows there’s something I know a little bit about.
    Our local bears behavior has changed alot over the years. The bears haved moved into populated areas and are no longer afraid of humans. Last summer I had four instances were I was trying to scare a bear away from my neighbors trash, clapping my hands and shouting. Same thing happened each time.Result? The bear just followed the noise and walked right up to me, only to lift its head, sniff the air and then slowly walk away. Cool and a little scary all at the same time. I’ve since bought a slingshot so we’ll see how that works out this summer.
    Here are a few tips from an old garbageman whose seen plenty of bears and the trash they love to eat.

    1.Don’t put your trash out till collection day, keep it in your garage, in your house or backyard. this will act as a deterent from having trash spread all over your property as well as your neighbors. Bears really like to drag garbage all over, making for a huge mess.

    2. Bears will hit the same garbage cans again and again.Talk to your neighbors, inform them there is a bear problem. A fed bear is a dead bear!

    3.If you can’t discourage a bear from repeatedly getting into your trash buy a bear proof garbage can or a bear proof box for your trash. These options are not cheap but they work. Pine-sol, ammonia, bleach or anything else poured on your trash will not keep the bear out.

    4. Never corner a bear, always leave him an escape route. Caught in tight quarters they can get aggressive and you will find yourself in a bad situation real fast.

    We can co-exist with bears just like we do with with all types of wildlife. Coyotes, raccoons, squirrlles and birds and so many more that call Lake Tahoe home. It’s just going to take a little more effort from us,locals and visitors alike.
    Take care (of the Bears), Old Long Skiis

  2. Dogula says - Posted: January 16, 2013

    Old Long Skiis, good recommendations all! My neighborhood has not seen so many bears the past year, but I know it’s because about 2 years ago, they killed a bunch. VERY sad.
    In my work in neighborhoods within the city limits, I was appalled in the days after New Year’s at the amount of garbage left in the streets by visitors and/or residents. For the past ten years, it’s been a requirement in the county that new construction include a bear box. Not sure why that wasn’t also a requirement in the city, but since the city got pretty much built out in the last few years, the point is moot. I DO think that if a house is a licensed short-term rental, a bear box should be mandatory. Although, the renters still have to be taught to USE them. . . it appears that our visitors from the city don’t grasp a lot of the realities of life in the mountains! Oh, well, as you say, LongSkiis, a little more effort from us, locals and visitors alike.

  3. DAVID DEWITT says - Posted: January 16, 2013

    I only put my garbage out on collection day i always soak it down with ammonia a cheep product if purchased in large containers. Also my dog wont allow them on the property.

  4. Denise says - Posted: January 16, 2013

    Having just moved here last March, from So Cal, I knew nothing about bears. The first time we put our trash to the curb, it was devoured by a bear. We did our research and stopped the problem.

    There are strategies, in addition to those mentioned, I feel would help. First off, realtors and rental agencies should make their customers BEAR AWARE. Ignorance kills and we truly had no idea.

    Our neighborhood is mostly weekenders. They are clueless that when they leave on Sunday afternoon, trash cans at the curb, that our local bear attacks each and every Monday evening before trash pick up on Tuesday. I believe they did not know. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I took photos of the mess, and along with a letter explaining, left it on the front door for their next visit. It worked.

    I think the key is to keep informing. Presentations like Mr. Klip’s, hosted by AAUW, and Lake Tahoe News’ publicizing, are great tools to save our bears.

  5. Old Long Skiis says - Posted: January 16, 2013

    My neighboorhood is about half time permanent residents the other half come up every other month or so. I have talked with everyone on my street about
    bears and trash.It took awhile but finally people clued in and secured their trash to keep the bears from getting into it.
    It’s almost as if I could hear them now.”Oh no, here comes that nutty old long haired guy from down the street telling us about bears and trash”. Hey,information is a good thing!

    You know what? My rambelings worked! No more bear problem and everyone on this street takes care of their trash so the bears can’t get into it.

    On one of my trips over to The Crystal Bay Club last summer, I noticed just about every property along the west shore had a bear box for their trash.Can So. Shore do the same and not just for new construction, older homes as well? To offset the price for the homeowner maybe a rebate or tax break until the cost of the box or can becomes more within reason?
    Just another crazy idea from Old Long Skiis

  6. worldcycle says - Posted: January 16, 2013

    Paintball gun. Highly effective and lots of fun too.

  7. Laura says - Posted: January 16, 2013

    Great job reporting, Kae. It was nice seeing you there to hear the speaker.

  8. dumbfounded says - Posted: January 16, 2013

    I, too, took some action in my neighborhood. I offered to take the non-resident’s garbage from them and put it out on the correct day. That was after I explained what happened when they left their trash out. It seemed to work out very well. They usually take care of their own garbage now. I still take an occasional bag from them.

    I have lived in the same home for 35 years on the edge of the forest and have only had two instances of bear antics at my house. Two. I put Pine-Sol around my garage and garbage cans. I have been very aggressive whenever I see a bear by chasing it away by making lots of noise and throwing the occasional rock. One of the times that we found a bear in our garage was my fault, I left the garage door open. That time, I unwisely chased the bear out of my garage with a shovel, hitting it on the butt as it ran away. That was years and years ago. I haven’t had a close-up encounter in about 10 years. Good luck and hope my experience helps.

  9. jenny says - Posted: January 16, 2013

    We learned a lot from Mario’s presentation. He has tracked some of the bears in his study and mapped their routes and time spent in areas to determine how wild vs urban they really are. He is gathering useful information and having success with the Aversion techniques. I look forward to updates on his research. Yes, let’s be responsible with our trash & keep the bears wild.

  10. DAVID DEWITT says - Posted: January 16, 2013

    Years ago we used to spend Christmas at the lake when we left we took a detour behind the gambling hotels and left our trash in there large dumpsters

  11. sunriser2 says - Posted: January 16, 2013

    My neighbor rents his house as a vacation rental. When he had the home built he forced to but in bear boxes. Total waste of money. The renters produce too much trash to put in the box.

    His management company comes by with a truck and picks up all the trash bags from INSIDE the house.

    He has to pay for the box that never gets used the trash bill he never uses and the management company to haul the trash away.

  12. Schaingirl says - Posted: January 17, 2013

    This article did make me laugh. News flash: you live in bear country. “You need to let the bears know they are not welcome?” Really? Then put away all the carved bears from your porches because they might take that to be an invitation. Stop leaving goodies on your porch. I guess people have to be reminded to be sensible, but to think that you can make bears stay away from dumpsters by making it “unpleasant” is kind of ludicrous.

  13. Old Long Skiis says - Posted: January 17, 2013

    Although I no longer work for South Tahoe Refuse and I’m not a spokesman for STR, you can order a bear proof dumpster for your bussines from STR. Bear proof cans and boxes? Your on your own. Scottys has the thick plastic cans with the screw on lids and Meeks out in Meyers has the boxes made of steel which can hold two 32 gal. cans.
    Be bear aware, Old Long Skiis

  14. Schaingirl says - Posted: January 17, 2013

    Old Long Skiis,
    You are right. My point is that people need to be reminded to use common sense? Then there is a new “genious” in the ‘hood who has FINALLY figured it out:
    “There is a global phenomenon that people believe wildlife have intrinsic value. You can’t kill it just because it annoys you,” Klip said.
    The next Albert Schweitzer!