In Three Rivers, a small town nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a baby boom in bears has led to an invasion of the fur-ball variety.
Residents and business owners of the town near the entrance to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks say the relatively small bears are popping up everywhere. And also pooping everywhere.
“They climb the oak trees. They sleep in the oak trees. They poop from the oak trees,” said Karen Perl, who works at Reimer’s Candies & Gifts.
Since the spring, park rangers have captured up to 40 bears, up from about 10 to 15, said Daniel Gammons, a wildlife biologist for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Hungry for the tasty cones from sugar pines farther up the mountain that are in scarce supply this year, an unusual number of bears have trekked down from the parks into campgrounds and even the Three Rivers community in search of food.
“Most of the bears are being seen during the day, which is unusual. They tend to be relatively secret and shy,” Gammons said. “We had a very unusual year in the park.”
There are various theories why this is happening, with one possibility being that the drought has dwindled the bears’ food supply, forcing them to venture closer to where humans are in their hunt for things to eat.
But Gammons has another theory: The baby bear boom of 2014.
According to Gammons, biologists noticed a surge in bear births in the spring of last year that followed a low birth turnout the year before. Fast forward 18 months, and many of those cubs are old enough to forage for themselves, giving Three Rivers a higher density of bears than in years past, he said.
He said the bear reports have increased in the last “five or six weeks.” And that’s not good, Gammons said.
“Any time there’s bears and humans in the same place, you’ll likely get some kind of conflict,” he said.
Instead, they seem to be most focused on finding nutritious, high-calorie acorn nuts.
Bears can be seen lounging freely outside storefronts and snacking on acorns throughout town. Most residents and businesses have bear-proofed their garbage cans, but it doesn’t stop the bear from trying to find food, Perl said.
“I used to be terrified. Now it’s like no big deal,” she said, though adding: “They are a real pain. They need to go back up.”
Workers at Sequoia RV Ranch have warned their patrons to keep a safe distance from the bears. But the bears have been good business for the campground.
“People come to camp here just to see the bears and drive around,” worker Kelly Childress said.
Bear cubs are often seen roaming around the wooded campsites along the Kaweah River or just hanging around.
“They are so cute in every way,” Childress said, though she did note that people have to “remember that they are wild.”