Tahoe Bears Finding Ways Into Warm Homes, CDFW Cautions

A black bear found its way through a crawl space beneath a Lake Tahoe home. (CDFW)

The following is courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

AKE TAHOE, Calif./Nev. — Winter is coming and as bears search for dens for the cold months ahead, they may decide that your house in the Lake Tahoe Basin is just the right place.

Black bears typically enter dens between mid-November and December. Wild bears usually look for natural dens in rock crevices, under fallen logs or hollow trees, or dig into the root mass of trees. However, in the Tahoe Basin many homes and properties can become a replacement for natural dens, especially:

  • Outbuildings
  • Porches, decks and crawl spaces
  • Vacation homes
  • Campers and RVs

Bears will often look for easy entry routes, like vents and doors, that they can rip open to gain access. They can fit in very small openings. Generally, if a bear can get its head inside, the rest of the bear can follow.

Once underneath a house they will often pull down insulation for bedding or scoop up available debris, like pine needles, to create their winter beds. This activity often causes damage to wiring for cable or electricity, piping that supplies heat to the home, and even water or gas lines. This type of damage can be costly to repair, can leave you without heat for the winter, and can cause flooding or fires. Many repair companies will not provide their services if they know a bear is under a house or if they are unable to access the damaged area safely. Occasionally bears will rip open access to the inside of a home and try to spend the winter indoors.

Allowing a bear to access space in your home is detrimental. This type of habituation can lead to conflicts, not just for your properties, but also for your neighbors’ properties. It is also imperative that female bears do not teach their offspring to seek this type of denning. Additionally, bears run the risk of injuring themselves in their attempts to gain entrance.

Check Outbuildings

Check garages, storage sheds and outbuildings and remove any items that could potentially be an attractant (birdseed, garbage, pet foods, sweet smelling cleaners).

Secure All Crawl Spaces

Securing your crawl space is one way to help prevent the likelihood of an unwanted guest. Openings that lead under your house should be boarded up with thick plywood that fits inside the seams. If you cover the opening, you create an edge that bears can use as a handle to rip off the wood. If you insert the plywood so it’s flush against the siding, or line it up with existing trim, there is nothing for the bear to grab onto and pull. Instead of nails, use screws to secure the plywood to the building. This can also be done on ground-level windows or other vulnerable points of entry. Check out our video here(opens in new tab).

Winterize Vacation Homes

Winterizing your home is another way to help deter bears from moving in during the cold months. Remove food, even canned goods and staples, from the home to help eliminate scent. Use curtains, blinds, or shutters to block the view of the kitchen. Close and lock all windows and doors. Turn off water and gas that you may not need for a while. Consider installing electric wire around windows and doors.

These are a few tips that are easy to implement and may help protect your home and bears.

Living and recreating in the Lake Tahoe Basin’s bear country is a year-round responsibility. Please do your part to help us keep our bears wild!

Here are some more tips you can follow to help keep Tahoe’s bears wild:

  • Never feed wildlife.
  • Store all garbage in and properly close bear-resistant garbage containers, preferably bear boxes. Inquire with local refuse companies about new bear box incentives and payment programs. Visit South Tahoe Refuse & Recycling Services(opens in new tab) and/or the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s Living with Bears(opens in new tab) webpage for more information.
  • Never leave groceries, animal feed, garbage or anything scented in vehicles, campsites, or tents.
  • Keep barbecue grills clean and stored in a garage or shed when not in use.
  • Keep doors and windows closed and locked when the home is unoccupied.
  • Vegetable gardens, compost piles, orchards, and chickens may attract bears. Use electric fences where allowed to keep bears out. Refrain from hanging bird feeders.
  • When camping, always store food (including pet food), drinks, toiletries, coolers, cleaned grills, cleaned dishes, cleaning products, and all other scented items in the bear-resistant containers (storage lockers/bear boxes) provided at campsites. New bear-resistant coolers that come equipped with padlock devices should always be locked to meet bear-resistant requirements.
  • Always place garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters in campgrounds or in bear-resistant containers at campsites (storage lockers/bear boxes), and close and lock after each use.
  • Store food in bear-resistant food storage canisters while recreating in the backcountry.
  • Give wildlife space, especially when they have young with them.
  • Leave small bears alone, mom might be right around the corner.
  • Secure your crawl space and winterize your home, including removal of all food when unoccupied.

To report human-bear conflicts:

  • In California, contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife at (916) 358-2917 or report online using the Wildlife Incident Reporting (WIR) system at apps.wildlife.ca.gov/wir.
  • Non-emergency wildlife interactions in California State Parks can be reported to public dispatch at (916) 358-1300.
  • In Nevada, contact the Nevada Department of Wildlife at (775) 688-BEAR (2327).
  • If the issue is an immediate threat, call the local sheriff’s department or 911.

For more information on coexisting with bears, visit TahoeBears.org(opens in new tab).