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Bears gonna bear: 'Troublemakers' may have been falsely accused

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The latest devil-may-care bear to emerge from the San Gabriel Mountains was spotted last week near the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The woodland interloper briefly shut down the 210 freeway and hooked in Fish and Wildlife officials after scaling a fence, traversing an underpass and running through a golf course.

(UPDATE: An even more recent bear incident is unfolding Tuesday as a scared bear went on the run after it was found hiding in a tree in Granada Hills.)

Bears are frequent visitors to the foothills, and in late spring, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department issued a "Be Bear Aware" news release reinforcing the message that: "It's Not a Bear Problem, It's a People Problem."

To that end, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife produced some short and offbeat educational videos about how human carelessness is increasing bear encounters, and what can be done to keep black bears safe in their natural habitat.

LASD went on to state that every single black bear in the San Gabriel Mountains is a descendant of 11 transplanted bears sent to the region decades ago after getting kicked out of Yosemite for bad behavior:

"Black Bears were introduced into the San Gabriel Mountains in 1933. They are all descendants of 11 bears deported from Yosemite National Park for being troublemakers."

A fascinating piece of history, to be sure, but anthropomorphic motifs aren't often found in LASD press releases, and calling them "troublemakers" seemed a little judgy. It raised several questions (and one eyebrow):

  • What prompted the bear transfer?
  • What's a "troublemaker" bear?
  • Why are we ascribing human behaviors to animals (and how did they learn to use Twitter)?

A quest for answers led us to Marc Kenyon, the Black Bear, Mountain Lion & Wild Pig Programs Coordinator for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Or, as the public affairs officer called him, "the bear whisperer."

We spoke with Kenyon last June about these allegations of "troublemaker" bears being deported from Yosemite in the 1930s.

Amused, he said he'd look into it. What he found was a wildlife journal from the 1930s, with a short passage noting the transfer of 28 bears to Southern California in 1933 — 11 to the Angeles Forest.

The nature of the transaction is profound — one day there were no black bears in the San Gabriel mountains and then poof, bears.   The Fish and Game President at the time thought they would make a nice attraction for visitors, and the journal oddly described the bears as having "comical, clownish features and actions."

For documentation regarding the historic animal transfer — which happened 80 years ago in November — Kenyon said he had to contact a former Fish and Game Journal Editor.

He was able to obtain a copy of the original 1935 passage, "Black bears released in Southern California," which he shared with KPCC. In an email he noted a few "highlights" of his finding:

"The Fish & Game President wanted bears down in Southern California; the Department worked to get 28 bears from Yosemite Valley (a good place to catch bears, even now); 27 bears were released in three locations. No mention of these bears having prior 'nuisance tendencies' or any further information regarding the motivation."

Kenyon, a wildlife biologist, says one of the best places to trap bears, then, and now, is Yosemite. The journal blurb does not give a reason those specific bears were selected, and even less about troublemaking behavior. 

It was commonplace in Yosemite in the 1930s to see the bears in the national park's garbage pit, Kenyon remarked. "That's what people expected at the time," he said. And while he could not speak to the behavioral reputation of the food-conditioned bears, it's possible that the "troublemaker" mythology may have been born from the garbage binging spectacle. 

Relocating food-conditioned bears, he said, does not necessarily perpetuate or curb the behavior of seeking human food. Exposure to human food is what likely influences that behavior. Additionally, he said the behavior is not necessarily passed from generation to generation. 

While the folklore may be more colorful than the journal's version, neither are particular informative when it comes to hard details about the deportation.

Which brings us to the 2013 Rose Parade honoree Meatball, and his merrily besmirched band of tweeting ursids who are finding their place in social media, an entirely different type of wilderness. 

Keep reading for some practical strategies in dealing with non-floral based bears. We will continue to truth squad the backstory of the maligned mammals. Bear witness, you guys.

BLACK BEAR SAFETY TIPS

How much room should I give a bear if I see one?

"As much room as you possibly can."

If I see a bear in a residential community, what should I do?

"Leave the area and call 9-1-1."

Do bears want to play?

"Bears don't want to play, they just want humans to go away."

Can I outrun a bear?

"Black Bears can sprint up to 35 miles per hour."

Ok, I'm going out for a hike.

"Before you leave on your hike, please fill out the HIKING PLAN sheet and provide to a loved one to hold onto just in case something happens to a member of your hiking/camping expedition."

Living with California Black Bears | What to do with food and trash

  • Bears and other animals are attracted to anything edible or smelly.
  • Store garbage in bear-proof containers, or store garbage in your garage until pick-up.
  • Keep food indoors or in airtight and odor-free containers.
  • Put away picnic leftovers; clean BBQ grills.
  • Keep pet food inside, and bird feeders away.
  • Pick up fallen tree fruit as soon as possible, or protect fruit trees with electric fencing.
  • Remove cosmetic fragrances and other attractants, including bird feeders and compost piles.
  • Install or request bear-proof trash containers.

Bear country precautions

  • Keep a close watch on children, and teach them what to do if they encounter a bear.
  • While hiking, make noise to avoid a surprise encounter with a bear.
  • Never keep food in your tent.
  • Store food and toiletries in bear-proof containers or in an airtight container in the trunk of your vehicle.
  • Keep a clean camp by cleaning up and storing food and garbage immediately after meals.
  • Use bear-proof garbage cans whenever possible or store your garbage in a secure location with your food.
  • Never approach a bear or pick up a bear cub.
  • If you encounter a bear, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to appear as large as possible.
  • If attacked, fight back.
  • If a bear attacks a person, immediately call 911.
  • When wild animals are allowed to feed on human food and garbage, they lose their natural ways – often resulting in death for the animal.

"Please respect and protect wild animals," says the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Keep them wild."

Burghduff_1935-rev.pdf by scprweb

 

This story has been updated.

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