SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CA - The Department of Fish and Game is beginning the process of finding homes for five orphaned bear cubs, but locating property that is suitable for the cubs is becoming a challenge.
"The habitat in which bears are occupying isn't getting any larger, but we have more bears to put in there so our cup is essentially running over," said Marc Kenyon, an environmental scientist at the Department of Fish and Game.
Scientists at Fish and Game are trying to find land that's suitable for the bears: somewhere with ample food, water and resources, but also a place that won't get the bears into trouble with people or dominant male bears.
"The issue now is (finding) those areas where there are few bears, not near humans, not near campgrounds," said Kenyon. "It's becoming more difficult because of so many bears and people recreating in and around the national forest."
Kenyon said there are more than 30,000 bears living among the wild in California. There are more bears than in previous years because of stricter hunting regulations and legislation that passed about 30 years ago, which curtailed illegal sale and trade of bear parts, according to Kenyon.
The orphaned bear cubs currently live at the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care facility where they're learning to eat types of food found in the wild. As the winter months arrive, the forest is expected become their new home.
"We want to get these cubs into the den when they would normally be denning up. We're trying to teach them when and where to den and how to do it," Kenyon said.
"The problem is humans have encroached on every livable square inch of land," said BEAR League Founder Ann Bryant.
"It's intermingling. We have to all share the same habitat now so we have to learn how to get along. Those cubs should be able to be released anywhere there's good habitat, whether there's people or not. People should learn how to live with them," said Bryant.
Once bears are released into the wild, the Department of Fish and Game monitors them up to a year, but there's currently no data or research on the pattern of behavior once the bears are released. Kenyon said their behaviors are unpredictable.
In June, two bears were killed after the Department of Fish and Game released them in the Hope Valley area. Some argued the bears were placed too close to vacation properties.
"The Hope Valley area still maintains itself as good bear habitat, suitable area, and I wouldn't have any reservations putting orphaned bears there in the future," said Kenyon.
Kenyon said there are a number of factors that may cause a bear to become a nuisance and cautions the public to practice trash management.
"We strive to keep our bears wild and we don't view bears coming into houses as being wild bears. We want to see them not gain access to homes, not gain access to human trash and waste so we can keep our bears wild in California," said Kenyon.
The Department of Fish and Game works with the U.S. Forest Service on a case-by-case basis to find land for orphaned bears.
According to U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin spokeswoman Cheva Heck, the agencies are considering working together to find predetermined locations to speed up the process of placing animals, those locations would have to suit the animal's welfare as well as community safety.