Feed a bear, pay a fine
Fish and Game Commission warns of impending danger
It’s being described as a perfect storm.
A surging bear population, budget cuts for trappers and drought conditions are leading local and state wildlife experts to predict danger.
“We are trying to do a pre-emptive strike,” Ron Horton told the Plumas County Board of Supervisors during its March 4 meeting.
“The bear problems are about to become burdensome and cumbersome,” said Horton, a county Fish and Game commissioner. “There already have been problems on Jackson Street (in Quincy).”
Terry Weist, local biologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, joined Horton in making the presentation.
Weist works in Plumas and Sierra counties and warned the supervisors about the danger.
“I live in Graeagle and a bear came into a lady’s kitchen,” Weist said.
Weist and Horton both stressed the importance of residents removing any incentive for the bears to visit.
“If they can get all of their calories from a garbage can, why stay in the woods?” Weist said.
The pair asked the supervisors to strengthen the county’s current ordinance dealing with trash containers and wildlife.
Jurisdictions that have implemented stiff fines for breaking trash laws have seen a marked decrease in bear problems.
The supervisors asked county counsel to work with the county Fish and Game Commission and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to draft an ordinance.
During interviews following the board meeting, both Horton and Weist described the bear problems they have encountered and what the public can do.
“If it’s an emergency call 911,” Weist said, and used a bear breaking into a home as an example. It’s not an emergency if the bear has disturbed a trash can.
To report a nuisance bear, call Weist at 836-0889 or the regional office at 225-2300. Weist or a game warden will assess the situation, make recommendations to the homeowner and issue a depredation permit if necessary.
Bears are no longer relocated, they are killed; thus the slogan “A fed bear is a dead bear,” which the commission uses on an educational brochure.
A depredation permit is issued when a bear causes significant damage.
It’s estimated that there are 33,000 bears in the state. How many of those live in Plumas County isn’t known, but “We live in prime bear habitat,” Weist said.
Each year the state allows a certain number of bears to be harvested, but last year, fewer than half of that number were taken.
“The bear population is growing too fast,” said Horton, who blames the situation on Senate Bill 1221, state legislation that prevents hunting with hounds, unless a depredation permit has been issued.
Bear can still be hunted, but without hounds it is more difficult. An added problem is that fewer people are keeping hounds because they can’t hunt with them, so there is a shortage when hounds are needed to enforce a depredation permit.
Horton has often been called in to help with problem bears and he has seen firsthand the damage they can cause.
In one instance a bear “tore a hole through the wall of a cabin and dragged a refrigerator through it.”
He has also arrived on scene to see a bear tearing the roof of a mobile home.
In another situation a woman had been feeding a bear, but when she went out of town for an extended period of time, the bear ravaged a neighbor’s vehicle, his barn and eventually his home, looking for food.
“You signed the bear’s death warrant when you fed it,” Horton told the woman who objected to the bear being killed.
Horton and Weist hope to minimize the number of depredation permits that will be issued this year and are calling on the public to do its part. A list of recommendations provided by the Department of Fish and Wildlife is printed adjacent to this story.