‘Never feed wildlife’: It’s fun to watch black bears, but don’t invite them over for tea, folks


A black bears saunters down Bobbie Curley’s street in Monrovia. Many residents in the San Gabriel Valley’s foothill communities come to know each bear that visits regularly. (Photo courtesy of Bobbie Curley)


Things I have in common with bears: I constantly think about finding food and eating it. I sometimes fall into a seasonal torpor and somehow find myself fattening up in the fall. OK, that happens all year.

But thanks to Mackenzie Rich, wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, I know more about our state mascot and its cousins.

Rich led a presentation with the city of La Cañada-Flintridge on Jan. 10, titled “Living with Black Bears in Southern California.”

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“The beautiful setting of our city comes with the added risk of wildlife encounters,” said Keith Eich, mayor of the city in the foothills of the Verdugo Mountains. “It is important that our community members understand basic information about coexisting with wildlife, preventive measures to take and tips to use during a possible wildlife encounter.”

Rich’s other title is “Human-Wildlife Conflict Specialist,” which means she is highly qualified to educate and advise anyone who lives in foothill communities from Arcadia to San Dimas.

First thing, “Wildlife don’t recognize property lines,” Rich said. “There is really no such thing as bear country.”

Keeping that in mind, Rich said we need to remember what motivates bears and other wildlife species commonly found in our foothill communities.

“They’re looking for three things, food, water and shelter,” she said. “It’s find food, find food, find food, and gotta eat, gotta eat, gotta eat. The good news is we’re not on the menu for any of them. We can co-exist.”

Rich said black bears are the only kind of bears found in our neck of the woods, and even though their fur can be brown, they tend to be smaller, have tall pointed ears, a straight facial profile, no hump and short claws.

Their home range is 60-150 square miles, or 3-11 square miles in the San Gabriel Mountains. Black bears hibernate from November to March and usually have their cubs mid-January and early February. They are omnivorous, with eyesight equal to humans but way better sense of smell and hearing.

Wandering human-dominated landscapes, black bears love avocados, pet food and bird feeders

Rich said the number one takeaway from the program should be, “Never feed wildlife.” Never. Feed. Wildlife.

It is, number one, illegal (Title 14, Section 251.3 from California’s Code of Regulations says so), And number two, feeding big game mammals such as bears builds bad habits such as my 2:30 p.m. Snickers break, a hangover from the time I was pregnant with Baby No. 2. He is 17 years old now, but that’s another tale.

Rich says the CFDW, or “Fish and Game” as most of us call that department, recognizes four kinds of bear behaviors.

There is the “no-harm, no-foul” bear, the type that wanders in, takes in a dip in a pool, then hops a fence to get out. Then there is the habituated bear that has learned when trash day is.

The depredation bear causes active damage (Depredation means plundering or attacking. I looked it up.) A public safety bear poses an immediate threat, but only as determined by a ranger or law enforcement.

Bottom line is, we need to learn to live with wildlife.

Bobbie Curley of Monrovia knows this better than most. She and her Monrovia neighbors are old hats at playing host to bears, deer, even mountain lions. The Curleys have lived in Monrovia since 1996 and know better than to take selfies when one wanders around their neighborhood.

“I don’t mind living with bears,” Curley said. “We are always aware of them. I have photos and videos. I keep my distance and enjoy watching them from inside the house.”

One of Monrovia’s bears played in the rain at a family’s pool on Jan. 14 before lumbering off. It’s a sight Curley is used to.

“We have bears almost every night,” she said. “We have an alley behind us. The bears knock over the trash can. Our trash can locks. Occasionally, because of the alley and people walking their dogs, they dispose of doggie poo in our can and fail to close it all the way so it doesn’t lock. That’s when the bears get lucky and find food. I’m trying new things to reduce the amount of food waste.”

Picking up after her bear friends isn’t so bad, she said. Education, of course, is power, and learning more about our black bear neighbors helps us understand what is best for them, and us.

The best thing to do when you see a black bear is stop and enjoy it, from a distance. If you need to report a sighting, visit the Wildlife Incident Reporting page on the CDFW website, wildlife.ca.gov/wir

Anissa V. Rivera, columnist, “Mom’s the Word,” Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Whittier Daily News, Azusa Herald, Glendora Press and West Covina Highlander, San Dimas/La Verne Highlander. Southern California News Group, 181 W. Huntington Drive, Suite 209 Monrovia, CA 91016. 626-497-4869.

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