Although they are a common wildlife species, black bears are not native to San Luis Obispo County.
In prehistoric times, grizzly bears were the top predator on the Central Coast, and did not allow black bears to coexist. The closest black bear population was in the southern Sierra Nevada, where they could climb trees to avoid predation by grizzlies.
Grizzlies were hunted to extinction in California in the 1800s. Black bears began showing up in San Luis Obispo County in the 1930s.
Now, black bears are well established in the county, and their population is growing, biologists say. In 2010, the Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated the black bear population in San Luis Obispo County to be 1,067, with more than 30,000 of the animals found statewide.
Although they are called black bears, most are not black. Cinnamon brown is their most common color.
Bears breed every other year, with cubs born in February while the mother is hibernating. Cubs stay with their mother until May, when they go off on their own.
Bears are large animals, with adults commonly reaching 300 pounds. They are true omnivores and will eat any food they can find. Acorns and berries are mainstays of their diet.
Bears are sometimes attracted to residential areas, campgrounds and orchards for the food they find there. Bears are more commonly found in residential areas toward the end of summer when they are trying to fatten up before hibernation in the fall months.
This year’s unusually dry winter may draw bears to urban areas earlier than normal. Using bear-proof garbage containers is the best way to avoid attracting a bear.