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Officials defend response to bear incident

A bear makes its way back toward the Angeles National Forest
A bear makes its way back toward the Angeles National Forest early last Thursday after spending most of the night dining on chickens in the backyard of a home on Bonita Vista Drive.

La Cañada Flintridge City Manager Mark Alexander on Friday said he has asked state wildlife officials to expand their presence locally due to a large number of bear sightings in the area.

The California black bear reportedly ate four backyard chickens last week at a home on Bonita Vista Drive and was photographed by a resident on Alta Canyada Road.

“After speaking with representatives from the Department of Fish and Game, we advised them that there is community concern in regard to the bear, and we’re looking for ways the Department of Fish and game can be more proactive to try to resolve this problem,” Alexander said.

Andrew Hughan, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game, said the department plans to continue its policy of not interfering with the bear unless it becomes aggressive toward people or otherwise poses an imminent threat to public safety.


“I understand [Alexander] wants to try to do everything he can to do what he thinks is right for his constituents in the city, but our policy is clear. In the case of bear-human interaction, we do not trap bears and we do not kill bears unless it’s deemed a public safety issue, and that means an imminent threat to people,” Hughan said. “An imminent threat to chickens is not a public safety issue.”

It would be against department policy to try to trap and relocate the bear at this time, he added.

“Relocation just doesn’t work. There’s been attempt after attempt after attempt to relocate bears similar to this one. We can move a bear 100 miles away and a couple of weeks later the bear will find its way right back to that same trash can,” Hughan said.

There have been multiple bear sightings recently in La Cañada hillside neighborhoods, said Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station Capt. Dave Silversparre, but none of those incidents have posed a level of danger to residents that would require removal of the bear.


Local Chamber of Commerce President Pat Anderson said a bear has been frequenting her Paradise Valley neighborhood weekly for at least four months. More than two dozen people have reported sightings in and around upper Ocean View Boulevard to the Paradise Valley Homeowners Assn., she added.

But unless a bear appears to pose a direct threat to human life, said Silversparre, sheriff’s deputies only observe the animal and defer to wardens of the state Department of Fish and Game.

Just making a mess

The bear roaming Paradise Valley just seems to ignore people, said Anderson. While walking to her car in the neighborhood around 11 p.m. about four months ago, she said she came within 6 feet of it.

“We just stood there staring at each other for a moment, and then he went on sniffing around,” she said.

In addition to Alexander’s request for an expanded presence of fish and wildlife officials, Silversparre said he has asked local wardens to join him during public safety presentations during an upcoming City Council meeting.

Hughan said game wardens are able to respond quickly if a bear becomes aggressive toward people or otherwise poses a threat.

Face-to-face with nature


That news is less than comforting to Wendy Blair, who said she felt helpless as the bear ate four of her nine chickens.

Blair came face to face with the bear at around 2 a.m. last week as she investigated noises coming from the chicken coop attached behind her Bonita Vista Drive home.

“We’ve had raccoons come before. So when I heard all this commotion, I headed out with a flashlight to scare them away. When I started to go down the stairs [into the backyard], I shine my flashlight and see this big, hairy arm. I move the light up and see his face 10 feet away from me. He was huge,” she said.

Blair immediately went back inside and called 911. But sheriff’s deputies would not be hurrying her way.

“They said unless it was threatening human life, they can’t really help you,” Blair said. “About 20 minutes later, the chickens started going crazy again. I panicked. The noise was so loud, so horrific. I was just really frightened.”

Blair said a patrol car arrived after her third call, but the two deputies did not see the bear and told her they would have to call the state Department of Fish and Game to respond.

A game warden eventually did come, but not until about 7:30 a.m. — leaving her to spend the rest of the night drumming on kitchen pots and pans and making other loud noises in the hopes of keeping the bear away from the house and chicken coop.

A bear was spotted in the same area just after 6 a.m. by neighbor John Petersen, who photographed the animal from his car as it slipped back into the mountains off Alta Canyada Road near Del Oro Drive.


“I’m no bear expert, but this was a big bear,” Petersen said. “It was a pretty impressive sight, and intimidating at the same time.”

‘Close the restaurant’

Hughan and Silversparre both recommended that foothill residents either secure their trash in locking cans or refrain from moving it to the curb until the morning of trash collection. Bears are also attracted to fruit and pet food, they said.

In Paradise Valley, the bear appears to return every Sunday night before trash pick-up, Anderson said.

“If we close the ‘restaurant’ he’ll go somewhere else,” she said.

Residents who encounter a bear should keep a safe distance and quickly — but calmly — seek shelter. Hughan said.

“Don’t turn your back on it, and go back in the house slowly. It’s only looking for food. A bear will not go in a house unless you provoke it,” he said.