Now is the time to consider your camping plans for the year. While thinking about supplies, I would add a note to (click here) purchase bear pepper spray for your camping protection.
The situation pictured is a dangerous one. While wild bears will normally scare away, some bears are used to people and will do whatever they want. This one had food and bears will defend their food and cubs.
Last year we were camping in the Lake Tahoe, California area and as reported, black bear activity has increased in the campgrounds and backcountry. The number of bear incidents has increased to the point that authorities are considering opening a hunting season. Hunting black bears is something that hasn’t been allowed in this area for many years.
We have encountered Black Bears a number of times in the Lake Tahoe area and I would like to share a Black Bear true story from our family trip.
August 30th, 2010, I was sitting alone at our campfire at Fallen Leaf Lake campground. It had been dark for about half an hour and my wife was getting ready to join me from our 5th wheel trailer. I heard a grunt and looked up to see a 300lb Black Bear standing under our lit Coleman Lantern. She was just 30 feet away from me, and I could see a tag in her ear (Tags are placed on bears when they have been aggressive in campgrounds and previously trapped and removed). The Bear’s eyes were reflecting green from the lantern, meaning she was looking directly at me. She turned away to look at my open campsite bear box which was empty of food and then she continued walking toward another campsite across a campground street.
As I told my wife to stay in the 5th wheel and started to look where the bear had gone, I was passed by her cub playfully jumping around and falling behind. That’s when I heard the screams.
The screams had come from two young couples that were tent camping in sites across from us. One girl was yelling “what do I do” and the other was yelling at the mother bear to get away from her desert.
While telling the one couple not to try to approach the bear, we told the other to put all food and sweets in the bear box. But it was too late for the one campsite.
They had just come back from the grocery store and had all of their food on the picnic table. The mother bear had found a feast and was not about to give it up. The campers and their neighbors tried though, moving their cars to light up the bears, honking horns to try to scare them away, and taking flash pictures. What they didn’t know is that when scared, bears climb trees and stay there until they feel safe again. This area is full of pine trees and the bear cub did just that, but the mother bear climbed up on the picnic table and continued her feast.
What I did next is not the smartest thing to do. I knew that I wanted a picture for my blog, but it was dark, my flash would not reach, and the car headlights were facing me. I decided to walk (what I thought was) safely around several campsites to the left and get to a position that would work. I needed to use my hat-mounted flashlight to see where I was walking, so I didn’t notice that the mother bear ran out of food. She lost sight of her cub, which was now in a tree. She began to walk my way and then considered me a threat.
By the time I looked up, I saw the green glow of the mother bear’s eyes as she began charging in my direction. At this point, I remembered not to run and thought I might need bear pepper spray, but instead, I hit the shutter button on my camera. The flash was set to white strobe, to reduce redeye, and stopped the bear’s charge. The Mother bear then found her cub the two bears walked around me to visit one more campsite where the campers were now running to the safety of their car.
I talked to a camp host the next day. He said that this bear and cub had been a problem before and that they had learned to wait in the dark and then move into a campsite when the bear box was left open.
Because the mother bear was used to people and not afraid of them, she repeatedly returned to campsites. She had been tagged and removed before and this time would probably be hunted down.
There is a saying in the Lake Tahoe area. A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear. Every Black Bear I have encountered in the Lake Tahoe area has been unafraid of people. The photo shown at the top of this article is of a woman at Fallen Leaf Campground on an earlier trip. She was trying to scare a Black Bear that had stolen an open bag of chips from her campsite. She was trying to scare the bear away by hitting pots and pans together making a loud noise. The bear stayed right there, just five feet away from her. She had also allowed her children to walk near the bear as if it were a pet. Very dangerous to say the least. What about me you ask? I took the picture with a telephoto lens.
The bear did finally leave and bear spray was not warranted here because there was no attack. If not for her guardian angel, this could have been a very different story.
Be safe out there and remember to purchase bear pepper spray for camping and to use it only in defense of a bear attack.
More true Black Bear stories to come.