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The Bear and the Cooler
I still remember my first bear encounter. It wasn’t even my encounter, but that of my friends who were camping in our usual spot at Bear Lake in northern Utah, at the mouth of Logan Canyon. I didn’t go this particular trip as I had to work but I heard about it and it became my experience. 

During the night, a bear wandered through camp. The girls were so terrified, they sprinted for the car and all four of them stayed the night, cramped in the car, hardly sleeping at all. 

I remember thinking how glad I was that I didn’t go on this camping trip and how scary that must have been and grateful that they all survived.

Fast forward a few dozen years and since then, since moving to Lake Tahoe, I have had numerous bear encounters, none of them frightening. In fact, I have made a point of learning as much as I can about bears to the point where I welcome and enjoy such encounters.

My most recent bear sighting was the first of June during my regular evening walk in the woods, perhaps about 7 p.m. There was only one small dog with me at the time, but it was she who led me to discover the bear.

Maggie, a small terrier, suddenly went off-trail and began running up the hill, which drew my eyes upward. She didn’t see the bear, although she must have smelled him, but there was a yearling cub, peering at me from over the manzanita bushes. 

I convinced Maggie to leave her search and come back to the trail, at which time the bear kept on his way up the hill. Those few moments the bear and I gazed at each other caused me to bond with him. After connecting with a wild animal like that, I always say a little prayer for its safety, as the creature from that point on becomes a part of me.

A few days later I happened to see a post on Facebook by a paddle boarder who was enthralled watching a young bear swimming and paddling in the lake near Sand Harbor, while he watched, floating on his paddleboard. He managed to snap some photos of the bear as he made his way out of the water, most likely in search of food. 

Surely this was “my bear”. I smiled, picturing the scene.

I was to learn later that this yearling bear was indeed in search of food and conveniently found some in a cooler in the back of an open-topped Jeep. There were also some tasty goodies in nearby dumpsters, improperly closed and overflowing, on which he dined. 

Nevada Department of Wildlife biologists respond and decide that this is a dangerous bear as he is foraging during the day. He is trapped and euthanized, officials justifying this action by stating that this bear was behaving irrationally for being out during the day and for resisting their attempts to scare him off. 

Life Cycle of a Bear

Female black bears mature between 3 and 5 years of age, and produce cubs every two years. Bears mate May through July. 

She gives birth in the winter den in mid to late January, having typically two or three cubs. The cubs remain with their mother through that summer and during the winter’s hibernation.

When the bear family emerges from the second winter hibernation together, the mother cuts loose the cubs from her care. These cubs are essentially teenagers, seeking their way in the world by themselves. This is the situation of the bear cub that I encountered in the woods and which the paddle boarder observed swimming that was ultimately euthanized for “unnatural” bear behavior. 

Facts that any bear expert should know are that these yearlings often forage during the day so as to avoid the seasoned males at night. Yearlings also have not yet figured out what is “scary”, so are less likely to be chased away from a food source by pesky humans. 

For example, last year at Tahoe Donner, a yearling required six hazing lessons before he finally “got the message”. Another bear, years ago on the West Shore, needed twelve lessons. None of the behavior exhibited by this bear cub at Sand Harbor or the others was unusual or threatening.

Going forward, our own Department of Wildlife can take this opportunity to lead the charge toward better understanding of bear behavior and seek to educate the public rather than frighten it into thinking these bears are dangerous. 

Yearling bear who was visiting the Whispering Pines neighborhood 3 years ago
Photo courtesy of Toree Warfield, Incline Village

Yearlings might require several rounds of hazing before understanding the lesson
Photos courtesy of Toogee Sielsch, South Lake Tahoe