Bear sightings in Santa Barbara, while rare, are not unheard of. In fact, on the night of Friday, May 13, a black bear was killed in an apparent hit-and-run near Ladera Lane in Montecito.
Neighbors on East Valley Road and Ladera Lane heard squealing tires, a thud and the cry of an animal around 8.30pm. One said he called 9-1-1 and saw two animals coming out of the road. On Monday, a dead bear was lying in the empty lot around the corner, said Jeff Miller, a resident of Santa Barbara, at the Independent. He said nearby paw prints indicated an orphan cub was wandering the area, according to wildlife biologist Dustin Pearce of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
As the human-wildlife conflict specialist for the department, Jessica West occasionally receives calls regarding human-bear conflict in communities in the foothills of the Los Padres National Forest. “In Santa Barbara, most human-bear conflict is over chickens, bees and trash,” West said. Especially in Montecito, bears break into easily accessible chicken coops, prey on larvae in bee boxes, and enjoy exploring residents’ trash.
The bears are looking for things to eat. “Bears are so food-focused,” West said. Their diet is very varied, but they mainly consume plant material, insects and sometimes smaller animals. If people leave a door or window open, West added, bears have been known to enter homes when they smell food cooking, using a sense of smell 100 times better than ours.
According to West, bears in the wild are often afraid of people. Their goal is to secure food, and humans can get in the way of that. His advice when meeting the bear is to stay away from the bear, speak in a low, firm voice, and slowly walk away from it without looking back.
“Bears can feel trapped if you don’t give them space,” West said. In the event that a bear feels trapped and approaches, she advises you to make yourself look as big and sound as loud as possible, waving your arms and yelling at them firmly.
Similar advice applies if a bear is in your home. “The key thing to remember is to make sure you leave an escape route for the bear,” West said.
When it comes to preventing human-bear conflict in the first place, West recommended completely eliminating attractants like food and litter, and keeping bears out of chicken and bee pens with electric fences.
“It also really comes down to a community effort,” West said. “You may be doing everything right, but if your neighbors aren’t, you’ll still have bear trouble.”
California is home to about 30,000 to 40,000 bears, all of which are black bears, according to West. The Department of Fish and Wildlife is currently trying to determine how many are in southern California. Corral traps are placed around trees with a scented object in the middle to attract bears, and their DNA is collected and analyzed from the fur they leave on barbed wire.
While there haven’t been more than a handful of bear conflicts in the Los Padres National Forest and Santa Barbara as a whole, West says there could very well be more in a near future. Due to climate change, drought conditions and wildfires, bears may begin to venture more into Santa Barbara communities, according to West. “It would be nice to get a head start, before these conflicts really start to escalate,” she said.
Connie Gillies, a wildlife photographer married to Miller, knows the Ladera and East Valley wasteland as the “deer nursery.” She said she often stops to document bobcats, deer, hawks and red-tailed hawks. “Every time I’ve photographed animals here, I’ve been shocked at how fast people drive on Ladera,” she said. “It was only a matter of time before a tragedy like this happened. Something has to be done to protect our wildlife.
So far, the little orphan has not been seen in Montecito. But if you see him, West said to contact Fish & Wildlife’s Wildlife Incident Reporting System or call Natural Resources Volunteers at (562) 596-3885. For all other cubs, treat them the same as an adult bear and back away slowly and carefully – a very protective mother is likely to be nearby.
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