It has been 100 years since the California grizzly bear, the animal that adorns the state flag, was hunted to extinction in the Golden State. Today, you will only find them in zoos and animal sanctuaries.
However, where one bear species has disappeared, another has surged in population in recent decades.
In the early 1980s, the number of wild black bears in California, the smallest of North America’s three bear species, was estimated to be 10,000 to 15,000. Today, the population has grown to somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Despite their variance in color – some are cinnamon or light brown – and wide range in sizes and weight, they are all considered black bears. They are also the only kind of bear you will find in the wild in California.
With the surge in population, it is no surprise that black bear encounters have become more frequent in areas that interface with their natural habitat.
In April, the City of Sierra Madre, nestled against the Angeles National Forest, declared bears a threat to public safety. Sierra Madre police responded to 130 calls about black bears in residential areas the prior year, although none involved attacks on humans.
They are typically seen rummaging through trash, but some have also entered backyards and even homes in search of an easy meal.
“I’ve had bears eat my chickens,” Sierra Madre Mayor Edward Garcia told the city council in support of the proclamation.
But by all accounts, attacks on humans are extremely rare in California.
In June 2022, a wild black bear was put down after it clawed a woman on the face while trying to escape her home in North Lake Tahoe.
The last known fatal bear attack on a human in California was in 2008 when Rocky, a captive bear trained to perform in movies, turned on its handler at Big Bear Lake.
According to the World Animal Foundation, there has not been a fatal wild bear attack in the Golden State since 1986.
CDFW says it receives thousands of bear reports each year, but very few result in an animal being identified as an imminent threat to public safety. Wildlife agents are far more likely to tranquilize and relocate a nuisance bear than to euthanize it.
A bear’s nose is 100 times more powerful than a human’s and seven times stronger than a bloodhound’s, according to CDFW. They are often attracted to trash and recycling, but can also be attracted to bird feeders, plant fertilizer, antifreeze, and even gasoline.
In January 2023, the CDFW and the Nevada Department of Wildlife announced a partnership with BearWise, a non-profit developed by black bear biologists to educate the public. They created an at-home checklist for homeowners to keep their property and pets safe.
Among the recommendations, keep trash containers and recycling bins clean and secured, store grills and smokers inside when not in use, and never leave food in parked cars outside.
“If bears could read, they would quickly learn that taking advantage of all those human-provided food sources carries risks that are far greater than any short-term reward,” said Linda Masterson, a member of the group. “Since almost all conflicts with bears are caused by people inadvertently or purposefully attracting them, in a generation or two (of bears, not people) conflicts would fade into memories of the bad old days.”
Tap here to report a bear sighting.