More than half a dozen black bear sightings in the past two weeks has swelled to reports of nightly “routine” visits by some Stevenson Ranch residents, many who now say they are fearful and worried for their safety.
For the past three nights, “like clockwork” a black bear has visited the residents of the last western stretch of developed land on the south side of Pico Canyon Road.
“He starts with the homes on Meadow Lane at 9 o’clock and by 10 he’s in my backyard,” said Stevenson Ranch resident Linda Allen, who lives on Greenbriar Drive, which dead ends into the wilderness.
Allen has photographed and recorded the bear cooling off in her pool, scratching its back against a post and, of course, going through her trash whenever she leaves it out.
“My fear is that when I bring in my trash and I’m not going to supply food, do they take the next step and come through the door?
“I don’t know if they’re going to move on or become more aggressive,” Allen said.
Chris Stoots, spokesman for the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, offered this as an answer: “The threshold so to speak is not “aggressive” but problematic, posing imminent or a specific threat to property or public safety,” he said.
That could, however, change.
“Sightings are just that. This does not substantiate a threat or even conflict,” Allen said Friday. “I have heard nothing of property damage or even encounters. We do not wait for or want escalation to the extent of injury but mere sightings of passing behavior isn’t alarming.”
If the situation intensifies, however, and bear behavior in Stevenson Ranch “escalates” from rummaging through garbage to breaking into a house, the animals will be killed, Wildlife spokeswoman Kirsten Macintyre said Friday.
The decision to shoot an intruding bear comes down to whether or not it’s considered “habituated” and that they’ve lost their natural fear of humans, she said.
“A non-habituated bear that wanders into a campground or a neighborhood and rummages through a garbage can will be scared off when humans show up, make noise, chase it off, etc.,” Macintyre said Friday.
“But a habituated bear has done it so many times that it will keep coming back anyway, and get bolder and bolder each time,” she said. “When the behavior escalates from rummaging through a garbage can in the middle of the night, to breaking into a house in broad daylight, the bear isn’t afraid of humans anymore.
“That’s considered a ‘public safety bear’ that could potentially be very dangerous,” Macintyre said. “They can’t be relocated at that point, so they have to be killed.”
What began two weeks ago as an amused reaction to the oddity of seeing a bear in the western suburbs of the Santa Clarita Valley – running from sheriff’s deputies on The Old Road June 8 and spotted by motorists traveling Interstate 5 near Castaic – has now shifted to a reaction among some of fear and dread as more and more bears show up in backyards.
“Almost all of us have young children and he (the bear) has been spotted on the streets and backyards early in the night,” Stevenson Ranch resident Julie Vazquez told The Signal Friday, after sharing her neighbor’s photo of a bear at the backdoor.
In the photo Vazquez shared with The Signal, a black bear has its nose against the glass of a patio door, apparently eyeing a bowl of fruit on a table inside the house.
“We are scared to walk our pets and let our kids play outside,” Vazquez said.
Vazquez, Allen and others in their community live on the eastern edge of Wickham Canyon off of Pico Canyon Road. Their homes on Royal Oaks Road and Southern Oaks Drive back directly onto a wilderness area that stretches west into the Santa Susana Mountains.
Has the bear visitation in Stevenson Ranch reached the point where the animal would dare to enter a home and, by that act, become the type of “public safety bear” profiled by wildlife officials?
Linda Allen gained a certain degree of insight into the possibility recently.
“He was in our pool and he was looking right at me,” Allen said, noting she watched the animal from behind a glass door.
“He was staring at me. He got out of the pool. I made my way to close our bedroom window. The TV was on and my husband was home. I pulled back the blinds to close the window and the bear was there, a foot away from me.”
Bear and homeowner were separated, by Allen’s account, by a window screen.
“I squealed but when I screamed it startled the bear. We both startled each other and he went on his way,” she said.
Allen described how “interesting” it was to watch the bear in her backyard, comparing it to an “oversized dog.” At the same time, however, she remains frightened.
“It is extremely terrifying and scary,” she said. “As fascinated as you are, you remember this is a large creature.”
The line between a “habituated” and a “non-habituated” could mean for life or death for the animal.
“If people remove the attractants, the non-habituated bear is far more likely to keep its fear of humans and always keep its distance,” MacIntyre said.
“The best thing people can do is to be extremely vigilant about removing attractants from their property. Food, garbage, fruit that’s fallen off trees, and even birdseed can keep them coming back,” she said.
“Habituated bears that damage property or threaten humans are considered a public safety threat and are typically killed,” she said.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt