Residents learn some bear necessities

Driven by post-Station-fire conditions, more bears are venturing into foothill neighborhoods in search of food, but officials told residents at a community meeting Thursday that human contact is rare.

California Department of Fish and Game Lt. Marty Wall offered tips to two dozen residents who attended the forum organized by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) after several bear sightings had been reported in the area.

A La Cañada resident on Bonita Vista Drive said a black bear ate four of her backyard chickens. Another resident photographed a bear on Alta Canyada Road.

People at the meeting also reported sightings off Ocean View Boulevard and elsewhere in the region.

Wall said grass and brush growing in clearings created by the Station fire provide good springtime foraging for black bears. But he said the dry chaparral typical of the foothills doesn’t offer enough food, so bears come into residential areas to check out fruit trees, garbage cans, dog bowls, koi ponds and backyard barbecues.

“I don’t want to disparage them by calling them lazy, but [bears] will take the easiest path through life,” Wall said. “If they get a pizza or a Big Mac out of a garbage can, they’re coming back.”

Wall suggested setting garbage cans out on the curb only on the morning of pickup, and said spraying the cans with bleach or ammonia can mask the lingering scents that attract bears. Taking in animal bowls and feeders at night also helps.

Electric fences might discourage bears, Wall said, and a fence-top attachment known as a Coyote Roller keeps bears away because their paws slip as they try to clamber over fences.

Wall also recommended harvesting fruit trees regularly so the bears don’t beat property owners to the task.

Several residents at the meeting asked about the risks bears present to people, especially children. But Wall said that bears dislike confrontation, and that there have been no reported deaths in California as a result of a black bear attack.

Even so, “You never want to be in between where a bear is and where a bear wants to be,” Wall said.

People cannot outrun bears, and are better off letting them go or chasing them off by throwing something, Wall said.

La Cañada resident Irene Mendon suggested the city tighten laws regarding keeping chickens on private property or koi ponds from the forest’s edge.

But Mayor Don Voss said he wants to encourage responsible decisions without enacting strict new laws.

Wall also recommended getting a two-socket light, replacing one bulb with an outlet and plugging in a small radio, and tuning it to a “rude political talk show” so the bear hears human voices.

Portantino, who was at the meeting, quipped: “As long as they are not talking about me, that’s OK.”

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