This has been a year when sightings of bears in the Tehachapi Mountains have been frequent and increasing. This may be due to the ongoing drought — back in 2014, during another especially dry year, Tehachapi area residents also reported a high number of bear sightings.
Bears in recent weeks are visiting bird baths and livestock water troughs to get a drink and cool down. The Bear Valley Springs Community Services District issued an alert on Thursday, Aug. 13, warning that a sow bear with cubs had been spotted on the golf course at Oak Tree Country Club.
Bears have also reportedly preyed upon some chickens and have raided a few unsecured trash cans and outbuildings that contained food sources.
The bears found in our area today are, of course, American Black Bears (Ursus americanus), which are the most widely distributed bears in North America. California is home to the largest number of Black Bears in the contiguous United States, a population that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates to be 30,000 to 40,000. Our part of the state has a subspecies known as California Black Bears (Ursus arctos californiensis).
Prior to the 20th century, California and the Tehachapi Mountains were also home to the now extinct California Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos californicus). These large brownish bears were common in the Tehachapi area and were the dominant bear species locally — Bear Mountain and Bear Valley were both named not for Black Bears, but for the California Grizzly. The Nuwä (Kawaiisu or Southern Paiute) people of the Tehachapi Mountains have words in their language for both California Grizzlies and Black Bears. The word for Black Bear is odokid mo'orizh, pronounced oh-DOH-kid moh-oh-REEZ.
The name Black Bear can be a little misleading when describing the bears in our area, because their coloration can also be brownish, reddish, or even quite blond, akin to the color of a yellow Labrador retriever. Many of the bears in our area also have a white blaze on their chest. Regardless of their particular color or shade, they are all still Black Bears.
This has been a long hot summer for all of us — the hottest summer on record — and coupled with a winter that produced little precipitation, it is unsurprising that bears have been going outside their usual comfort zone and venturing closer to houses in search of food and water. Deer, which have little problem being around human habitation anyway, have been spending increased time grazing and browsing in yards, since there is little grass and other vegetation in more remote areas.
Happily, I did notice this week that some of the Blue Oaks (Quercus douglasii) have a large acorn crop this year, which has just started to drop, so that will provide a highly nutritious food source for many different species of wildlife, including bears and deer.
The two most important things to remember to avoid conflict with bears are these: do not provide food for them, and do not startle or crowd them in any way. Especially mothers with cubs, which are often the source of bear attacks on people.
If you find that a bear has discovered an unintentional food source, like a trash can, bag of dry dog food or a wild birdseed feeder, please remove the food source until the bear moves on so that it does not become habituated to it. Fish and Wildlife has a saying that "A fed bear is a dead bear," because bears that become a nuisance and a potential threat and are euthanized are most often bears that have become reliant on a human-provided source of food.
Bears are an important and interesting part of our Tehachapi Mountains ecosystem, and we need to co-exist with them so that both humans and bears can thrive.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.