Timely Bear Discussion

Environmental Scientist Rebecca Barboza, California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, gave a presentation on bears that was sponsored by La Cañada Flintridge.
Screenshot by Mary O’KEEFE


La Cañada Flintridge hosted a virtual meeting on Thursday, Oct. 14 that focused on bears and bear safety. The meeting was particularly timely as the following morning a bear was struck and killed on the Foothill (210) Freeway. A driver who was traveling westbound on the 210 called the California Highway Patrol at 3:40 a.m. reporting that the bear had been struck near the Berkshire Avenue exit in La Cañada Flintridge. CHP found the bear had died. The driver did not report any injuries.

Michael Comeaux, Caltrans spokesman, confirmed that Caltrans did respond to the bear incident on the 210 Freeway, and that it had been hit and killed. The bear was dark brown, weighed around 180-200 lbs. and was not tagged.

Barboza’s presentation included information on how bears have adapted to urban areas.

“Our biggest recommendation is to never feed bears, either intentionally – no matter how cute they are – or unintentionally by allowing your garbage cans and/or other food items to be available to bears,” she said.

Black bears, which are the bears that are found in California, are usually five to six feet in length and can weigh up to 600 pounds; however, the average weight is 150 to 300 pounds. They can live from 25 to 30 years in the wild.

“That is a pretty extraordinary length of time for a large body mammal to survive in the wild,” she said.

She added it is important to note that human food sources can facilitate local population increases. In the wild a female bear may give birth to one or two cubs, and those cubs may survive to adulthood but their food sources are limited.

“In the urban interface the bears have 24/7 access to food, water and shelter,” she said.

So the bears have sufficient fat reserves to have multiple births and those cubs are more likely to survive to adulthood, which increases the bear population growth in urban areas. Cubs normally stay with their mother until they are 18 to 20 months old.

In the fall season bears go through a “period of fattening” when they eat a lot then den in December or when the weather starts to cool. In Southern California because of the mild winters, bears may not disappear completely during the winter months but instead will reduce their activity.

“Bears are omnivores, meaning they eat everything, and they generally have a vegetarian diet,” Barboza said, “but they will commonly consume animal protein.”

The bear has a home range of three to 11 square miles. In the urban interface they do not have to travel that far to find food.

Bears have been seen lately along the foothills, including a female bear that has tipped over garbage cans but has not become aggressive.

Barboza said Fish and Wildlife might not come out when receiving a call concerning a bear, especially if there is little property damage or any threat to humans or other animals. Fish and Wildlife does not always relocate bears because, especially in urban areas, they will just return to their home range where they know they can find food.

The goal of Fish and Wildlife is to provide tools to minimize conflicts between bears and humans and, at the same time, avoid negative impacts to the species population.

“An informed public is the most effective solution to these problems related to bears,” she said.

Barboza reiterated how important it was for people not to feed bears. There are some simple ways to avoid unintentionally feeding bears that include getting bear resistant garbage cans. Many of the cans have side locking mechanisms that automatically work with most waste management company trucks.

People can also make sure they collect any food from around their property, making sure not to leave food outside for their pets. If they have chickens, they need to make sure they have predator-resistant chicken coops. She also advised freezing “wet” garbage, like meat or bones, until just before waste pickup, and to clean garbage cans and keep them in a garage or shed.

Bears can adapt to food resources though they normally forage at night.

“The bear will change its eating habits from nighttime to daytime if it knows it has an easy food source,” she added.