How did this all start? It's easy to blame the influx of L.A. and Bay Area retirees who have never had to deal with wildlife before and have moved into the woods, but I think it's more a combination of ignorance and a lack of personal responsibility. The issue itself? It's garbage, literally. People put their garbage out the night before, attracting bears (and raccoons). The easy meals come each week, keeping bears in our woodland neighborhoods.
A couple of years ago, a family put their garbage out before leaving on vacation. There was a snow storm that same night, so the garbage trucks couldn't get up our hill to collect. The trash sat out all week long, as none of us knew they were gone. A bear would come, knock down the trash can, and go through it. A conscientious neighbor, not wanting wildlife at his own doorstep, would sweep up the detritus and put it back in the can, expecting the neighbor to stow it away in his garage. Being away, that didn't happen. Instead, the bear broke into their house opened up the refrigerator and cupboards, smashed containers, ate at its leisure, and for good measure, tore apart the couch -- probably because it contained crumbs.
That silly bear also opened our car doors one night. Nothing was damaged, but it definitely gave us a start when we found the car open to the elements in the pre-dawn light. Being a tad more savvy, we don't leave food in the car, and since then, we lock and alarm our cars when we park down our driveway.
We've had a few close encounters other than the car, bears coming up onto the deck, finding them gazing into the house -- one even tried to open the front door -- but we do things properly, taking our garbage and/or recycling out the morning of pick up, not feeding the birds, having motion sensors on our outside lights, etc.
Luckily, black bears are a lot more laid back than their grizzly cousins. The only grizzly left in California is the one that adorns our state flag, but what do we do about a large group of people willfully ignoring the proper steps to keep the bears uninterested? This is the bears' natural home. We're the interlopers. I've spoken to my immediate neighbors, and they adjusted their habits right away, but there are many more who continue to misbehave. Probably the most irksome part is that many of them won't clean up their garbage after the bears have rooted through their cans. Instead, they just leave it sitting on the ground where it was dragged. The local paper runs stories on being bear aware each year. It's not like anyone's keeping it a secret. We all strive to communicate the proper ways to behave around bears, but what do you do when people won't admit they're creating a problem? In a couple more years, if this behavior continues, we'll have as big a bear problem as Tahoe. What is the solution, do you think?
(I'm still working on our vacation photos. Stay tuned!)