What does it mean to respect wildlife?

Love bears? Read this and help keep Tahoe bears wild!

LAKE TAHOE, Calif./Nev., April 30, 2024 – As human beings, we are innately fascinated with the natural world and often spend time and money to view the strength and resiliency of wildlife. We have zoos, safaris, wildlife excursions, and more, that are dedicated to viewing wildlife. These entities serve as excellent venues for education and conservation, but the Tahoe Interagency Bear Team (TIBT) wants to remind the community that encouraging close interactions and viewing of bears around Lake Tahoe, outside of these carefully controlled environments can be detrimental in neighborhoods and for businesses facing rising human-bear conflicts. Interacting closely with wildlife puts them at risk for increased habituation to humans, consequently removing their wildness and instinct to avoid humans.

“Black bears are typically cautious around humans and by seeking out interactions with them or allowing them to den under homes you are exposing them to human presence, sounds, and smells,” said Urban Wildlife Biologist, Rebecca Carniello with Nevada Department of Wildlife. “The black bears in the Tahoe Basin are already frequently exposed to humans in neighborhoods and any additional exposure could increase their comfort levels around people. Although black bears are generally peaceful, we must remember that they are powerful and wild creatures, and they deserve our respect 100 percent of the time.”

Respecting wildlife means giving them their space and privacy to roam and be wild. While we share the landscape with black bears, it is important to set boundaries to protect ourselves and the bears. These boundaries include properly managing attractants (human food and garbage), hazing bears away from neighborhoods, campgrounds, and other human-inhabited areas, and never allowing bears to eat human-sourced food or trash. Habituated bears are not wild and therefore not healthy. Keeping bears wild in the Tahoe Basin is TIBT’s mission and it is the responsibility of all residents and visitors living and recreating in bear country.

TIBT wants to also highlight the local and nationwide issue of people increasingly encroaching upon wildlife, particularly bears, to take photos, videos and/or create social media content and habituating them to human presence. TIBT experts consider this to be disrespectful and harmful to wildlife, and one step closer to removing the wildness of these animals.

Not only does this action eliminate the important boundary between humans and wildlife, but it is also anthropomorphizing, or inappropriately attributing human emotions or human likeness to wild animals.

By naming bears and treating them as pets, we remove their wildness and disrespect their space, which encourages others to do so. It also encourages individuals unfamiliar with bear biology to gain a false sense of familiarity and comfort around these wild animals. Actions such as taking photos with bears, naming them, allowing them to den under homes, or any other behavior that shows wildlife can be comfortable around humans, can have devastating consequences. This can lead to potentially dangerous situations where bears can harm humans or damage property, ultimately ending in outcomes that nobody wants and that could have been avoided. We believe these bears deserve more. A bear’s life and wildness are worth more than likes, clicks, and engagement on social media. If you believe a bear is or has been denning under your home or a neighbor’s home or witness any other potentially problematic interactions between humans and bears, please contact the TIBT wildlife experts below.

For more information on bear encounters, visit the BearWise webpage on how to behave if you see a bear.

To report human-bear conflicts or bear health concerns:

  • In California, contact CDFW 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 their public dispatch at 916-358-1300.
  • In Nevada, contact NDOW at 775-688-BEAR (2327).
  • If the issue is an immediate threat, call the local sheriff’s department or 911.

    Learn more about living in and visiting bear country at TahoeBears.org and Bearwise.org. Do your part to keep Tahoe bears wild!
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