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Locals get the bear truth at Eaton Canyon meeting

August 29, 2012

In a summer where bears are splashing into backyard pools, trashing garbage cans and — in one tragic case — crashing into a car, experts came to Eaton Canyon Nature Center Saturday to discuss interactions between humans and bears in the foothills.

Kim Bosell, a natural-area administrator for the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, said people and bears try to steer clear of each other, but encounters are inevitable where the city meets the forest.

“Black bears in this area aren’t here to kill people,” she said. “They want food from us, but not to kill us.” Bosell said that when bears eat human food in Canada, people kill the bears to deter others. “In California, they get three strikes and are tagged,” she said.

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Bosell told the roughly 50 people in the audience that early settlers in California encountered the grizzly bear, but the last California grizzly was killed in the 1920s. It is black bears that people see today, she said.

Park officials estimate that 3,500 black bears live in Southern California, with 400 to 500 roaming the San Gabriel Mountains.

Bosell said black bears avoid confrontations with people and have been involved in only about 15 recorded attacks in the last 40 years. He said the last time a bear killed a person in California was in 1875.

Bosell’s encounters with bears date to 1996, when she participated in a three-year study of black bear behavior in the San Gabriel Mountains. Bosell said bears come to human habitat to look for food, and said but this summer’s high temperatures and last winter’s drought conditions have prompted them to search for water in swimming pools and food in garbage containers.

She recommended residents pick fruit early, keep their lawns and gardens free of food and work with local authorities to utilize bear-proof garbage containers. Department of Fish and Game officials recommend cleaning trash bins regularly to reduce odors that bears would find tantalizing, storing the bins indoors and keeping pet food bowls inside.

Bosell suggested that those who live where bears are seen form networks with their neighbors to observe whether cubs or moms are about, as the only time bears become aggressive is when a mother is separated from her cubs or senses that they are in danger. She said residents should contact local police, sheriffs or the Department of Fish and Game if they spot a bear, and to expect the unexpected once they have an ursine visitor.

“A black bear can climb a tree and stay there one hour or 11 hours — until it feels safe to climb down,” she said.

Bears in the wild live about 20 years, she said. Adult females grow as large as 250 pounds, males as large as 400 pounds.

Jeanne Washington of Pasadena said this year bears descended to her house, but only to vandalize her garbage bins.

“It was just the trash cans. They turned them over,” Washington said.

-- Alfredo Santana

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