Black bears are a common animal in California's high country. A few common-sense practices will ensure that any encounter you might have will be a pleasant, safe one. The following is from a bulletin produced by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, titled "Living with California Black Bears"; republished by permission of the Department. Editing comments are in brackets "[ ]"; the full bulletin has additional information for homeowners. Photo by Jon Kinney, NPS.
This information is only applicable to black bears, which are primarily herbivores. Grizzly bears and Alaska brown bears are quite different animals and require different precautions.
Some California black bears are brown in color - usually called cinnamon - but these are still called black bears.
Black Bears in California
California has a large black bear population, estimated to be between 16,000 and 24,000 bears. As more people live and recreate in bear habitat and more bears seek food in human settlements, conflicts between humans and bears will become increasingly common.
Each year in California, black bears damage hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of personal property. Although black bears rarely attack people, these strong predators are potentially dangerous and are capable of seriously injuring or even killing humans.
Often, these incidents are the result of human behavior. We can lessen the chances of conflict by following several guidelines when we are in bear habitat.
If You are in Bear Habitat or Encounter a Bear
Never Feed a Bear
People should never feed bears, even unintentionally. Once bears obtain food from people, they associate all humans with food. Without their natural fear of people, bears may become increasingly aggressive.
Never Approach a Bear
Most black bears try to avoid confrontation when given a chance. If you encounter a bear, make sure to give it enough space to escape. Most human injuries associated with black bears occur when a bear is approached.
Do Not Run from a Bear
Running away from a black bear may stimulate its instinct to chase. You cannot outrun a bear. Instead, stand and face the animal. Make eye contact without staring. If you have small children with you, pick them up so that they do not run or panic. Give the bear room so that it can avoid you.
If a Black Bear Approaches
Try to demonstrate to the bear that you may be a danger to it. Make yourself appear larger, stand up, raise your arms and open your jacket. Yell at the bear, bang pots and pans or whatever objects you may have with you, and create a general commotion.
If a Black Bear Attacks
Black bear behavior is quite variable. Research indicates that bear attacks have been avoided or injuries reduced when the victims fought back using any means available. Throwing rocks and striking the bear with branches or camping equipment have been shown to be effective.
Keep a Clean Camp
Black bears are far more likely to visit your camp if there are attractants, which include uncleaned cooking utensils, garbage and even the clothes you cooked in. Clean up your camp as soon as you are finished eating. If you want to be extra cautious, cook food and clean your dishes well away from where you plan to sleep.
Dispose of Your Garbage Properly
Use bear-proof garbage cans whenever possible or store your garbage in a secure location with your food. Do not bury or burn your excess food because bears will still be attracted to the residual smell. Garbage should be packed out of your camp with you if no trash receptacles are available. [In camp, treat garbage with the same precautions as food.]
Store Food and Toiletries Safely
Food should be stored in your vehicle's trunk in as airtight a manner as possible. If your vehicle does not have a trunk, conceal food inside your vehicle, being sure to disguise the food containers' shapes.
If a vehicle or other suitable storage area is not available, food should be suspended in a tree at least 10 feet above the ground, at least 4 feet from the trunk and on a branch less than 4 inches in diameter. Food should be stored well away from the area in which you sleep. The scent of toiletries may also attract bears and therefore these items should be secured as well.
Bear-resistant containers, which can be effective in deterring bears, can be purchased from outdoor stores.
[On any Sierra Club outing, the leader will provide instructions for the bear-proofing of all food and garbage.]
Keep Children Safe
Keep a close watch on children whenever they play or hike outdoors. Teach your children what to do if they encounter a bear,
Report Threats and Attacks ImmediatelyOutings Information Introduction
If a bear behaves aggressively or attacks people, contact [the managing agency or] the office of the California Department of Fish and Game during regular business hours: Monday through Friday, 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.. If the encounter or attack occurs after business hours, call the local police or county sheriff's office and ask to be put in contact with the California Department of Fish and Game. The Department will assess the threat to public safety and take appropriate action.