What You Need to Know About Tahoe Bears

By Shanie Matthews

The flowers are popping. The squirrels are awake and scampering among the forest floor. And the bears are rising from their deep slumber, ready to fill their bellies.

Lake Tahoe is a playground for you and I as well as Mother Nature’s creatures. Although sightings of bears were less common a few decades ago, the chance of seeing these Goliath fur balls is much more likely today. The problem is growing to such an extent that many longtime residents of both South Lake Tahoe and North Lake Tahoe are seeing what some consider to be an invasion by bears. In fact, this last fall there were 14 reported bear break-ins in the Homewood area alone.

These creatures that can weigh up to 500 pounds seem incredibly cuddly and cute from afar, but they are strong enough to easily rip a car door off of its hinges to get to what they want and fast enough to out run you (they can hit speeds of 35 mph). They can be incredibly sweet about what they desire (for example I had a bear open my car door and center console for a container of TicTacs, leaving everything orderly and in its place), but if they aren’t the devastation can be monumental. The damage, of course, is not only to things of material value. There have also been reports of bears causing major injuries.

The most important thing to remember with Tahoe bears is that all they really want is food. They don’t want to hurt a human being, but they won’t think twice about doing damage. In fact the act of harming a person is far down their list of desires. But once they smell food they will come back to the known source. As expressed by Ann Bryant of Tahoe’s Bear League, “The rules in the eyes and the mind of a bear are, ‘If I can smell it, and I can get at it, it's mine.'"

To help protect yourself, your belongings and the home in which you are staying, here are 17 ways to be in harmony with Tahoe bears.

  1. Never leave any item of food in your automobile, including discarded containers and wrappers.
  2. Only discard of garbage in bear-proof garbage containers (this is a vital point).
  3. Only put out trash on the morning of trash collection day.
  4. If you are reusing your garbage can, be sure that it is clean and doesn’t have food remnants. If it does it will need to be cleaned with bleach or ammonia.
  5. When not using the BBQ, keep it stored in the garage or a shed.
  6. Do not use bird feeders.
  7. Avoid using scented products such as suntan lotion and candles outside.
  8. Always keep the doors and windows to your home locked at night and when you're not home during the day.
  9. If needing to store food in your car or if camping, be sure to use bear-proof containers for food, pet food and toiletries.
  10. If camping be sure to clean dishes, store excess food and discard of garbage immediately after meals.
  11. If staying in a tent, never store toiletries, food or anything scented in the tent. Instead store these items in a bear-proof container.
  12. Never ever feed bears intentionally.
  13. When hiking the trails sing, make noise and/or clap to scare away any bears that might be close by.
  14. Try to always travel in a group.
  15. Keep a wary eye for telltale signs of bear activity, such as bear tracks, bite marks on trees or paw prints on the side of a car.
  16. Keep dogs on leash to help protect them.
  17. If you see a bear get big by raising your arms above your head and do not approach it. Instead, back away slowly, but don’t run. Also speak in a calm, but loud voice. Never turn your back to the bear.

To learn more about how to enjoy Lake Tahoe alongside the bears, please check out California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website.

Photos: Deschutes Beer, California Department of Fish and Wildlife

About the Author Shanie Matthews
A longtime Lake Tahoe local, Shanie is a freelance writer, Vinyasa Flow yoga teacher and positivity warrior. A true lover of the the gorgeous Tahoe region, she connects with the serenity of the mountains via skiing, biking and backpacking. She also believes in the gift of yoga and its way of allowing one to become his or her true best self, a passion she shares with the world with her online yoga studio.