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The Associated Press

In a state with 40 million people black bear encounters are on the rise. Here’s a look at the amazing Ursus americanus.

Black bear sightings are increasing in California with some bears even coming into homes. Just recently an autopsy of a woman killed in 2023, in Sierra County, revealed it was by a black bear — the first in state history. Black bears have been spotted in North San Diego County, which is rare. Many have been spotted in residential areas of Sierra Madre, Monrovia and Castaic.

If you have a close encounter with a bear, experts say you should back away slowly, try to appear as large as possible and make noise. Do not run or “play dead.”

To report a bear problem contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Find which of the six regions you are in or you can call the Sacramento Headquarters 916-322-8911.

Wildlife experts estimate California’s wild black bear population at 30,000 to 35,000, up from about 15,000 in the early 1980s.

Black bears are powerfully built, large carnivores. Though they are the smallest of North America’s three bear species, they are the third largest of the world’s eight bear species. Despite their name, they can vary in color considerably, from off-white to cinnamon to tan to brown to black.

Black bears are omnivores, and their teeth are adapted for feeding on both plant and animal matter. They are highly opportunistic and will eat nearly anything edible.

They can open car doors with their tongue and search vehicles for food.

Most black bears in California hibernate each year, but if sufficient food resources are available some black bears, particularly males, may remain active all winter. Black bear dens are often in tree cavities, rock or brush piles, underground burrows, or open-ground beds. In California, other common documented den sites are talus slopes and cavities in downed logs or at the base of trees.

Litters of 1-4 cubs are born during January-February. Mothers and cubs typically emerge from their dens during April-May. Cubs remain with their mothers through the following winter, and then separate prior to the breeding season. In total cubs remain with their mothers for approximately 16 months.

To learn more go to the CDFW site on human-wildlife conflicts:

It is estimated that there are at least 600,000 black bears in North America. In the United States, their estimated population is more than 300,000.

Over half of the suitable black bear habitat in California is in public ownership, managed primarily by the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service. Approximately 10% of California’s black bear habitat is managed as either wilderness or designated park.

Based on current best estimates of black bear populations statewide and regionally. Hunters harvest less than 7% annually of the bears present in any region of the state, and under 3% overall.

From 2012 to 2022, an average of 28,024 black bear tags were sold annually which, when including the cost of a hunting license, generated $27.2 million in revenue, ranging from $1.9 to $3.2 million per year.

outdoor safety tips

Black bear encounters resulting in human injury are rare in California. Bears can be unpredictable. Most black bear “attacks” are defensive actions if the animal is protecting cubs, becomes startled or scared. In some cases, a food conditioned, or habituated bear may become too bold and act aggressively towards people. Each situation is different.

Be bear aware

  • Know the area you are hiking and be aware of your surroundings on the trail.
  • Leash pets outdoors. Dogs can startle or scare bears and provoke defensive behaviors.
  • Keep pets in view and secure at all times. Do not leave pets unattended or sleeping outside.
  • Watch for signs of bears in the area and along trails – Scat, tracks, den sites, bark stripped off trees.
  • Make your presence known (e.g., talk loudly, whistle) – A scared or startled bear may react defensively.

Be bear smart

  • Remove unsecured food from inside your vehicle.
  • Remove unsecured food or strongly scented items in your tent.
  • Securely store human and pet food, toiletries, and scented items (e.g., sunscreen) inside bear-resistant food canisters or bear lockers.
  • Remove trash regularly – Check with camp host or park staff about removal or storage options.
  • Clean fish or field dress animals away from campsite.
  • Clean grills, dishes, and eating area after each meal.
  • Change out of clothes you cooked or ate in before going to bed.

If you encounter a bear

  • Keep a safe distance. Back away slowly.
  • Let the bear know you are there.
  • DO NOT RUN. Do not make eye contact.
  • Keep small children and pets close to you.
  • Make yourself look bigger and make noise (e.g., yell, clap, use a whistle).
  • Let the bear leave the area on its own.
  • Carry bear spray and know how to use it properly.
  • If a black bear makes contact – fight back! Then – Call 9-1-1

Sources: California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Montana FWP, KTLA, National Park Service, The Associated Press

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