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Bruin Trouble Not His Intent, but Reception Was Too Much to Bear : Ursine Interloper Lured by Turf--or by Thirst

Times Staff Writer

He may not have been smarter than the average bear, but he had more lavish tastes.

The 350-pound male California black bear that roamed into Granada Hills over the weekend may have been claiming as his territory a burgeoning subdivision of half-million dollar homes, one wildlife expert said Monday.

On the other hand, another expert said, he may simply have been seeking to wet the old ursine whistle with a deep draft of swimming-pool water--unpolluted by fish, fronds or other natural irritants.

What exactly drove the bear into the fringes of suburbia from a habitat most likely 15 or 20 miles distant is unknown, but the experts agreed that he might have been following the same marching orders that impel other bears to do such things from time to time.

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‘My Third Bear’

“I’ve been here since 1945, and this was my third bear,” said David Whittingham, an attorney who lives on Highwater Road, the private thoroughfare on which the bear was treed early Saturday morning.

“Some mighty hunters killed one at Rinaldi and Balboa, back when that was country, in the late ‘40s,” he said. “And then there was one that was wandering through yards a mile from here about a year ago.”

That bear eluded police and animal control officers last June after leading them on a chase through a hilly neighborhood near Rinaldi Street and Reseda Boulevard.

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In June, 1982, a Los Angeles police officer killed a six-foot-tall bear as it lunged toward him in a Granada Hills backyard. The next year, a bear captured near Val Verde died, apparently from a reaction to the tranquilizer with which it had been shot. There have been no incidents of bears harming humans in the San Fernando Valley.

Tragedy kept its distance Saturday morning. The bear scampered up a spruce tree after Whittingham’s neighbors discovered it in their front yard about 1 a.m. Teams of police officers, firefighters and animal-control experts converged on the area with loudspeakers and lights, shotguns, tranquilizer guns--all the essentials of bear-trapping except, presumably, a jar of honey.

“God almighty, what a show,” Whittingham said. “The loudspeakers got me up about 6 a.m. I looked outside, and there were people running all over the place. They tried to back this hook-and-ladder truck down a drive. I didn’t know if they thought they were going to bring him down a ladder like a kitten up a tree, or what.”

Annoyed by firefighters’ spray from 80 feet down, the bear scampered down the tree and loped back into the mountains.

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Far-Off Habitat

“An even marginal habitat would have been at least 15 to 20 miles north and west” in the Angeles National Forest, said Larry Sitton, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game. Black bears also live in parts of the San Gabriel Mountains 10 miles or so from Granada Hills, Sitton said, but freeways and residential areas would have blocked the bear’s path from there.

Black bears range far and wide, establishing dens in caves, culverts, crawl spaces beneath summer cabins, holes they dig between downed trees and a variety of other places. A mother and her cubs tagged last year in Yosemite were discovered six weeks later in Sequoia Kings Canyon, a distance of 90 miles through rugged terrain, Sitton said.

Sitton said male bears who wander into populated areas sometimes are motivated by the thrill of exploration. “We suppose they’re just looking for a territory after leaving their families,” he said.

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But other experts think water--not wanderlust--moves such bears.

“I suspect that we’re seeing the effects of drought,” said Cliff Prator, an associate curator at the Los Angeles Zoo. “Water supplies drying up much earlier and more completely than in a normal year. It may be that bears are coming down to the swimming pools and gutters. It happens with rattlesnakes and other animals, too.”

In unusually dry seasons, the roots and berries that the omnivorous bears like to eat--along with insects and grubs--don’t do as well. “In dry times, the supply of everything dwindles,” said Prator. “It affects the entire food chain.”

Sitton disagreed, contending that water sources in bear country, mountainous areas at least 3,000 feet high, haven’t yet dried up. Some animals, he said, “just wander.”

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The experts agreed, however, on the most effective measure to take if a bear should happen to wander into your backyard, lured by edibles in the garbage, or fruit--bears particularly favor avocados--off the tree.

“Stay out of the yard!” said Pat Moore, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game.

“You can’t shoo them, and you can’t wave an apron at them. Keep your pets inside. Don’t chuck rocks at them. Bide your time, and see if the bear won’t just move on. If he doesn’t, call the nearest animal-control officer.”


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