Cambrian: Opinion

No, hungry bear, my backcountry Cambria chicken coop is not your drive-through

It may appear tranquil in these Santa Lucia Mountains from the coast or the lake (Nacimiento) — it’s not.

It can be. But more often than not, it feels like there’s never a dull moment when you live in the backcountry of Cambria. Nowadays, among neighbors, bear sightings and encounters are a typical topic of conversation. In the midst of this black bear baby boom, for the past several years now, it’s no longer unusual to cross paths with young bears or triplet cubs.

There’s nothing more fun to watch, but dawdle we don’t. Where there are cubs, there’s surely a protective sow nearby. For the most part, it’s a thrill to see bears. It’s only when they cause “problems” that we’re troubled by their visits.

Time-consuming, expensive repairs caused by a bear’s curiosity and strength get old in a hurry. The challenge is that opportunist bears have powerful snouts and an appetite to match. Coupled with no manners and a seemingly waning natural tendency to avoid humans, some bears are getting into trouble.

It seems that a few of our local ursine already associate human dwellings with food.

And why wouldn’t they? Many remote mountain folk have a substantial stockpile of emergency supplies in their pantries. That, plus produce from gardens and orchards, pet food, birdseed, hummingbird feeders, garbage — you name it — it’s all fair game to a bear. The menacing thing is that the boldest of the bears are breaking and entering.

Unfortunately, in their efforts to dine on or play with our stuff, they push in screens and windows, break off fruit and nut tree branches, pull off windshield wipers and mirrors, claw up interiors of vehicles, tear open trailers, and generally make huge messes.

So, how do we — the supposed smarter of the two species — outwit these bad-boy bruins? How do we teach bears that trashcans are not bistro bowls; chicken coops are not drive-throughs; gardens and orchards are not smorgasbords; and most importantly, houses are not soup kitchens?

Ultimately, we just want the bears to learn that human dwellings are off-limits. Some mountain residents are having better luck with this than others. Here, at our cabin, the only food for people, pets and livestock is stored in a back room of the house — protected by dogs 24/7.

We don’t even leave out food for the free-range chickens. Instead, like the dogs and cats, the hens get fed measured amounts morning and night. Also, we don’t allow garbage (aka bear bait) to accumulate. Not everyone does it this way.

Unfortunately, the old adage about a fed bear being a dead bear happens all of the time — elsewhere, thus far. That’s why preventative measures are so important. It’s an ongoing process. We’re still figuring it out.

Before it gets to the point when residents have to put bars on the windows and spike strips on the doors, we have to continue to convince these bears that our “dens” are occupied.

Do not disturb.

Michele Oksen writes Mountain Musings from her off the grid cabin in the Santa Lucia Mountains. Contact Michele at overtheridge@sbcglobal.net.
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