Posted: Oct 29, 2005 9:14 am
1:58 p.m. October 28, 2005
RENO, Nev. – A hungry black bear that broke into about 100 Sierra Nevada vacation homes and caused up to $1 million in damage was shot and killed by a caretaker while exiting a home at Lake Tahoe.
"This has been a nightmare for 18 months," said Ann Bryant, executive director of a local bear advocacy group. "This guy was so elusive and intelligent. He knew he was a criminal and sped away as soon as he heard a car."
The 500-pound male bear was shot twice about 5 a.m. Thursday after he devoured a package of lollypops and walked out of a home on Lake Tahoe's northwest shore near Tahoe City, Calif., Bryant said. The bear died instantly.
With the help of surveillance cameras, Bryant's group determined the unusually destructive animal was responsible for what experts are calling the worst wave of bear break-ins ever in the Sierra.
The group, which works with local authorities to curb conflicts with bears, has received reports of 150 break-ins in the area since May 2004.
"I do think this bear caused more damage than any other bear in United States history," Bryant told The Associated Press.
Patrick Foy, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game, said he was unsure whether the bear ranks among the nation's worst ever.
"But I can say with confidence that it's the worst bear in California history as far as amount of damage caused," Foy told AP.
Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes have been California's "hot spots" for bears breaking into homes, Foy said, while bears usually break into cars in Yosemite National Park.
Placer County sheriff's Lt. John Addoms said that since July, the department has received reports of nearly 80 bear break-ins, with more than half occurring in October when bears try to fatten up for winter. The attacks have been confined to a five-square-mile area near Tahoe City, about 40 miles southwest of Reno.
"We believe this bear to be responsible for a large percentage of the break-ins," Addoms said.
The caretaker who shot the bear acted under a permit issued by California Fish and Game to a woman whose home received about $200,000 in damage from a bear, Bryant said.
The bear turned on a faucet, flooding the woman's kitchen and destroying elaborate woodwork on the floor and cupboards. The bear also caused some fire damage at other homes by turning on stovetop burners.
Though it didn't hurt anyone, the aggressive bear knocked solid doors off hinges and broke through double-pane windows in its search for food.
While Bryant's group, the BEAR League, works to rehabilitate problem bears, it agreed the bear needed to be killed before it injured someone, she said.
"The BEAR League doesn't kill bears," Bryant said. "For us to actively seek him to take his life, that tells you that the situation reached a point where it was very, very serious."
Bryant thinks the bear was lured to the area by a small group of people who failed to properly dispose of trash. The animal learned to associate food with homes and began breaking into them.
California Fish and Game officials joined the BEAR League and sheriff's department in urging vacation home owners not to leave food behind and asking all residents to properly dispose of trash.
"I would suspect we'll see the bear damage drop off considerably, but it's no time to lighten up efforts to prevent this from happening again," Foy said. "It's a reminder of what we need to do to coexist with bears."
Bryant said she thinks a less aggressive female bear is responsible for the rest of the break-ins in the area.
"The other bear is not nearly as aggressive and has some hope for rehabilitation," she said.