This winter, in these Santa Lucia Mountains, our local bears (Ursus americanus) haven’t been very sleepy.
While they might be a bit slower than they are when the temperature is warmer, curious and rambunctious bears continue to ransack cabins, outbuildings, cans, boxes and vehicles just like they do the rest of the year.
Most active at dawn and dusk, bears are known to roam around the woodlands at any time of day or night. Reported sightings have multiplied tremendously over the past several years. Data indicates that with the increase of California’s black bear population, particularly along the Central Coast, these bears now inhabit areas where they weren’t seen 50 years ago. According to California Department of Fish and Wildlife, between 25,000 and 30,000 black bears are now estimated to occupy 52,000 square miles in California.
Short-tailed, shaggy and usually black, these bears come in a wide variety of colors. Up here, we’ve encountered black, cinnamon and palomino colored bears. Some bears have a white “V” on their chest. Their small eyes are blue at birth then brown as they mature.
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An adult black bear can be 4 to 7 feet from nose to tail. When on all fours, they measure about 3 feet high. Upright, they stand at about 5 to 7 feet tall. Sows (females) may weigh around 200 pounds, while boars (males) weigh more. Where feed is plentiful, some weigh 600 or more pounds.
Even though they appear roly-poly, black bears are quite agile. If you’re tempted to haze a bear, keep in mind, they can climb trees, swim and run 35 to 40 mph.
Bears eat almost anything including carrion — thus their attraction to trash cans and compost heaps that have table scraps in them. Once bears’ acute sense of smell leads them to easily accessible food sources, they will revisit the locations as long as the food is available. With every return trip to human domiciles, bears become less afraid of people. Their confidence motivates bold attempts at accessing and defending food. This escalates the risk factor greatly.
Naturally, we’d rather the bears foraged for berries, acorns, insects and such. However, when given an opportunity, they’ll readily gorge on food meant for humans, pets, livestock and birds. Bear proof food storage, as well as timely disposal of household garbage, is a must.
In addition, regular cleaning of garbage cans and outdoor grills is helpful in the effort to keep bears wild.
Then again, now that more of us are into bees and honey, sweet enticements are likely to influence a bear’s powerful impulses. Bears that go after beehives will inevitably test the patience and ingenuity of both beginner and seasoned beekeepers in these highlands. To protect these wholesome investments we may soon see solar electric fences around some of our local bee colonies.
Yes, bears have become a year-round challenge in these hills. Never fear, bear lovers. We’re willing to try whatever it takes to live peacefully with them.