Claremont bear sightings increase

A lone bear ambles onto Jim Coffman’s property about three or four times a week.

The bear doesn’t attack anyone, other than the trashcans left out on the street for the garbage man to pick up.

“The last couple of times they were just grabbing the trash can with their teeth and eating out of it like it’s a gourmet lunch box,” Mr. Coffman said.

When the bears would first start showing up in Mr. Coffman’s neighborhood on Via Padova around four years ago, a simple shoo would ward the bears away. Now, with repeated human contact, they seem to have become bolder.

“We have an adolescent-slash-adult male bear,” Mr. Coffman said. “It just comes up to me and looks at me and says ‘Yeah, what are you going to do about it?’”

Mr. Coffman and his wife, Cat Payne, have been documenting the reoccurrence of bears in and around their property for years. In most pictures, the bears are digging through the trash, while others are milling about the property looking for food.

Mr. Coffman’s story is normal for residents living in the hills above Claremont. “Everybody kind of has stories,” he said.

But it is increasingly becoming a situation felt by residents living below Mount Baldy Road. On May 15, a bear was hit by a car on the 210 freeway near Fruit Street in La Verne, and had to be euthanized. Claremonters have been posting pictures of bears they have encountered in the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park (CHWP) on social media, shocked and awed of the wild encounter.

In his weekly report, City Manager Tony Ramos urged residents to be vigilant after increased bear activity was observed in the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park.

Andrew Hughan, spokesperson for the California Department of Wish and Wildlife, explained the increase in bear sightings isn’t exactly a phenomenon—it happens around this time every year.

“It started a little later than usual, but this is very normal activity in the spring time,” he said, noting the 210 corridor usually sees a spike in bear activity around this time.

The reason, he says, is the young bears are coming out of their weeks-long denning period—California Black Bears don’t hibernate, because the climate in the state isn’t cold enough, Mr. Hughan said—and venturing out into their surroundings for food.

“Just like a teenager, an 18-year-old leaving home going on his own way and cruising around in their car, this is exactly the same thing,” Mr. Hughan said.

“They’re just checking out the world around them,” he added.

Just like what happened with Mr. Coffman’s bear, the bears coming out of hibernation are looking for food, most likely in people’s trash. As the weather gets warmer and people are outside more often, smells from outdoor barbecues and other food-centric soirees attract bears in droves.

“All of this in combination makes the bear’s sense of smell go crazy,” Mr. Hughan said.

Mr. Hughan dispensed sound advice when asked what to do when a bear crosses your path—stand tall and wave your arms.

“Ninety-nine times out of 100 they will run away,” he said. “Stand you ground and act bigger than them.”

The city also dispended some advice on how to deal with a bear encounter, advising to hike and travel in groups, pick up small children immediately, move away slowly if the bear doesn’t seem to be moving and to never put yourself in the middle of a female bear and her cubs. 

When asked about the incident in La Verne on Monday, Mr. Hughan noted situations such as that happen more frequently than people realize. Cars regularly hit bears, he said, and the injured bears often crawl back into the woods to die.

“It probably happens several times a week,” he said. “It just doesn’t happen in front of television cameras.”

Mr. Hughan also advised residents to be extra vigilant in securing their trash around their house. If you have anything that smells remotely good—good being a subjective term, as bears go wild over the smell of days-old food scraps—you have to clean it up.

Paul Faulstich, a Via Padova resident and professor of environmental analysis at Pitzer College, noted that certain changes by homeowners, such as properly securing their trash cans, can go a long way in preventing bears from ambling into their property. He recently worked with the city and the Padua Hills Theater to bear-proof the theater’s trash cans to curb the number of bear encounters.

“That kind of simple thing goes a long way in protecting the bears from encounters, and it’s kind of common sense stuff,” he said.

He advises all residents living in the hills to safeguard their trash to ward off bears, including bear-proof latches on cans.

“Bears are smart, and if you start being bear smart, they’re going to stop coming around,” he said.

As a researcher, he has also been studying the frequency of bears in heavily visited areas like the Claremont Hills and areas with no human traffic, such as the San Dimas Experimental Forest.

He noted that bears in the area have grown accustomed to the high-caloric foods humans eat.

Some residents encouraged bear activity, he said. He told a story of a woman on his block who would obtain expired chicken from a local supermarket and leave them out for the bears to eat. Over time, an entire congregation of bears would show up, sometimes resting in neighbors’ pools.

In the meantime, Mr. Coffman and his wife are taking preventative measures, installing an ultrasonic sound system to ward the bears away and putting cayenne pepper in their trashcans.

“They’re getting much more familiar,” he added. “I wouldn’t say aggressive.”

Mr. Faulstich stressed that bears want nothing to do with humans—all they want is what we throw away. It’s a thrilling thing to see a bear, he says, but the proper way to observe them would be at a distance in their natural habitat.

“The bears are non aggressive, they don’t want negative interactions with people,” he said. “They’ll explore our trash, but they prefer not to deal with us.”

Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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