Tahoe: Now With More Berries, Happier Bears

Wet weather in June has spurred a bumper crop of berries and other vegetation favored by bears, leading to a considerable decrease in human-bear conflicts in the Sierra, wildlife biologists said.

The recession also is playing a role in fewer bear encounters in the Lake Tahoe area, experts said, because fewer people staying at vacation rentals means less garbage to lure bruins to populated areas.

"The calls are down considerably," said Carl Lackey, a biologist and bear expert with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. "Definitely, this wet spring is just awesome for bears as well as all the other wildlife out there."

Jason Holley, a bear biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game, agreed.

"We had one of the wettest springs on record, really. It was pretty sensational," he said.

Unusual conditions brought thunderstorms through most of the month, including eight straight days of rain May 30 through June 6. In Reno, it's been one of the wettest Junes since records started back in 1870.

The moisture has nourished natural vegetation that bears depend upon -- manzanita berries, chokeberries, wild roses, forbs and grasses, while boosting populations of the insects, squirrels and other critters bears like to snack upon, Lackey said.

Holley agreed that conditions should help avoid a major problem with human-bear conflicts.

"I don't expect a lot of the true wildland bears to have to search so far for food," Holley said. "The chances of them coming across people and our food is reduced."

Similar wet weather in May 2008 helped keep last summer a mild one for bear problems in the Tahoe-Reno area. So far, Lackey said, he's had to capture about six or seven problem bears, fewer than this time last year.

That wasn't the case in 2007, when serious drought conditions caused a record problem with bears in Nevada, California and other Western states.

In the Reno-Tahoe area that year, wildlife and law enforcement officers responded to hundreds of calls, including potentially dangerous situations where bears broke into occupied homes in search of food. In Nevada alone, 157 bears were captured, some repeatedly.

"I've never seen anything like it," Holley said.

But the biologists add that summer has just started, and hot, dry conditions can quickly deplete vegetation and create another busy year of bear problems.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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