South Lake Tahoe’s City Bears

By Isabella Brady

In the south Lake Tahoe region there are dense neighborhoods with 21,403 residents and 20 million tourists each year–however this largely suburban population shares the space with the original residents; Ursus americanus or the American black bear. 

Currently, there are 20 bears that do not venture beyond the city limits of south Lake Tahoe, living there full time, and roaming the neighborhoods. The neutrality bears associate with people sometimes gets them into trouble, although they may not always be at fault. Yes, I understand, nothing matches the heartwarming feeling as watching a mama bear and her three cubs saunter down the street; an occurrence my family and I have witnessed frequently from the front of our cabin. However, while they may be cute to watch from a distance, bears are consistently impacted by Tahoe’s visitors, proving the importance of respect, as the delicate relationship relies on coexistence. 

Centrally responsible for the decline in bear health points to climate change; sadly a factor people contribute to in daily life. Increasing temperatures and further economic expansion into bear habitats force some bears to become quite adapted to relying on human food as a resource. Later snowfall combined with the dependency to shelter beneath houses and consume leftover food tempt some bears to simply never hibernate during the winter, and for the rest lessens their slumber by six days on average. Bears roaming throughout the extent of winter proves concerning, as they lack nutrition from the grasses, fruit bearing plants and other natural foods covered beneath a blanket of snow, and instead primarily consume garbage for food. Limited to the past few years research, we know that bears’ heart, breathing and body temperature drops throughout hibernation, serving as time for a bear to rejuvenate. Without this stage of rest combined with poor diet means the life expectancy of bears may decrease over time. Residents and visitors that abandon their trash reinforce the bears reliance on waste and packaging for food, which consequently damages the health of bears. Unintentional consumption of cans, foils and harmful plastics can cause digestive complications and obstruction—which can be fatal. 

Bears are euthanized legally for exceeding three ‘strikes’ on their records, which range from entering houses or buildings or damaging property. However, motivated bears can achieve much more, as they raise their young for about one and a half years, and are extremely intelligent. Please do not underestimate bears, as fewer food sources land many bears in people’s homes during winter, and they are not good house guests! One way to reduce these occurrences would include cleaning up after yourself, and avoid feeding bears—it will encourage them to approach people in the future. Donating to Tahoe wildlife facilities, protecting the environment, and driving cautiously also keeps bears safe. Bears are amazing animals and valued components to the ecosystem, so if you’re planning on spending winter break in Tahoe make sure you look out for the bears, and have a safe holiday.