Our View: Year of bear encounters

A bear walks across a front porch of a Castaic residence Saturday Night. Courtesy photo
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One of the great things about living in the Santa Clarita Valley is that we have the best of both worlds – we live next to the second-largest city in the United States yet in our community we are surrounded by wildland.

Some of our homes adjoin this open space. It’s a beautiful place to live.

But with wildland comes wildlife.

Each summer seems to bring to the Santa Clarita Valley a new round of encounters with wildlife. One year it might be rattlesnakes; another might be mountain lions or bobcats.

This year it’s definitely American Black Bears, which have been making appearances in larger numbers than usual in Newhall and Stevenson Ranch. (Experts assure us they’re black bears even if they look brown.) They have been seen near freeways, running in lanes on city streets and in residents’ backyards.

Because it has been very warm this summer and because of hillsides denuded by vegetation during fall fires, grass and natural vegetation have been especially scarce, luring bears into town looking for food and the occasional dip in a suburban pool.

As residents who chose to live near nature, how do we deal with this?

First of all, don’t panic at a bear encounter. Experts say most bears are afraid of humans. They are simply foraging for food, and their diet consists 95 percent of plant life, according to the California NatureMapping Foundation.

It’s only the “habituated” bears – those who have grown accustomed to people – that may become more and more aggressive. Wildlife experts say these bears may eventually need to be destroyed.

We hope experts do all they can to ensure these bears’ safety in their native habitat before resorting to killing them.

As citizens who care about protecting the wildlife around us, we can best ensure bears’ safety by doing everything we can to avoid habituating them. That means keeping everything that will attract them – such as pet food and even fruit that drops from trees – out of our yards.

Keep garbage cans clean and deodorize them with bleach or ammonia. Don’t use bird feeders if you live next to open space. Keep barbecue grills clean and don’t leave any scented products – even non-food items such as suntan lotion – outside.

Obviously, keep your children and small pets inside, especially at night. Bears aren’t likely to want to eat a dog – their diets lean more toward fish, small native mammals, insects, carrion and garbage – but an irritated bear could take a swat at a dog, injuring it.

Above all, don’t feed bears. If they begin to rely on humans they will lose their natural ways and become habituated. Then they may pose a danger to humans and to themselves.

Let’s live in harmony with those who lived here first.

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