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Experts Are Bullish on the Chances for More Encounters With Bears

Times Staff Writer

Bears don’t normally pick residential streets in the San Fernando Valley to forage for squirrels and berries.

But state and federal wildlife experts are betting that the 300-pound California black bear that lumbered down Algiers Street in Northridge early Saturday won’t be the last furry intruder in the Valley.

They say the bear population in Angeles National Forest and the Santa Susana Mountains is increasing and that the competition for food probably will draw more of them to residential areas in northern Los Angeles County.

More Sightings Recently

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“It seems like we’ve had more bear sightings in the past two years than we’ve had in a long time,” said Bill Brown, a wildlife biologist with the U. S. Forest Service. “I’m certain we’ll see more of these types of encounters, particularly if we experience a few dry years and the food source is diminished.”

The bear encountered by homeowner Alan Perches after he was awakened by his barking dogs about 1 a.m. Saturday eluded police and animal control officers who chased it up a driveway but lost sight of it when it ducked behind a house.

But a bear that in June, 1982, wandered into the backyard of a Granada Hills home less than two miles away wasn’t as fortunate. A police officer killed the six-foot animal when it lunged at an animal control officer.

For years, bear sightings in urban areas of Los Angeles County were extremely rare. But, in May, 1983, a black bear wandering in the Val Verde area near Saugus was cornered, tranquilized and released farther north in Angeles National Forest.

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Encounters Fatal for Bears

That same year a bear captured near Val Verde died when it was shot by a tranquilizer gun, and another was killed when it was hit by a car near Pyramid Lake, north of Saugus and just east of the Ventura County line.

Estimates on the number of bears in Angeles National Forest vary widely because the animals are nocturnal, extremely shy and hibernate from October to May. Brown believes there are 150 to 200 bears in the area. Glenn Stewart, a zoologist at Cal Poly Pomona, puts the population at 75 to 100.

Tom Walsh, district supervisor for the city’s Animal Regulation Department in Chatsworth, said the Valley’s most recent intruder likely followed Aliso Creek down from the Santa Susanas, stopping just short of the Simi Valley Freeway. The area is covered with vegetation and would enable the bear to slip in unnoticed.

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Stewart said bears encroaching on urban areas are probably younger animals who, unlike their parents, have not established a territory in the wild. Bears do not run in packs, Stewart said, and generally avoid each other in the same manner that they avoid humans.

Walsh said an attempt will be made to capture rather than kill bears straying into residential areas.

‘Scare the Pants Off Him’

“Our main concern is getting the varmint back up in the hills,” he said. “If we scare the pants off him, he won’t come back.”

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Chances are the bear spotted over the weekend has already been frightened off by its brush with life in the big city. Brown said black bears are leery of humans and are dangerous only when wounded or cornered, or when their cubs are threatened.

“The thing to remember is they aren’t tame, they aren’t in a zoo and they aren’t the cuddly bears you see on TV, like Gentle Ben,” said Earl Lauppe, supervisor of wildlife management for the state Department of Fish and Game.

“Don’t pet them.”

Black Bear an Immigrant

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The black bear, which can weigh more than 500 pounds, is not a native of Southern California. Stewart said 27 black bears were trucked from Northern California in 1933 when the population there became too dense. Ten of the newcomers were released in the San Gabriel Mountains, Stewart said, and the others were let go in the San Bernardino Mountains, where about 300 black bears now roam.

Although the number of bears appears to be increasing, any thoughts of eradicating or thinning out the population are premature, Lauppe said. Hunters are allowed to take one bear a season.

Walsh said dealing with bears may simply prove to be an occupational hazard for people who choose to live in the more rural areas of the Valley.

“That’s the price you pay for living up in the mountains,” he said.

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