Officials defend response to backyard bear

A La Cañada Flintridge woman is raising concerns about local response to encounters with potentially dangerous local wildlife in the wake of a confrontation last week with a California black bear.

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.

According to local Chamber of Commerce President Pat Anderson, 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 Association, she said.

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

So far, that agency has not found frequent local bear sightings to be a sign that hillside residents are in any imminent danger, said spokesman Andrew Hughan.

Just making a mess

Silversparre said he has kept in close contact with Fish and Game, and officials there have told him the presence of at least one bear in the hills of La Cañada has not triggered concern for public safety.

“According to people, the bear has been non-aggressive toward humans and is, to quote, ‘just making a mess’ [while sifting through trash]” said Silversparre. “The threat level has not been raised as imminent to human beings, and so [Fish and Game has] no plans on removing it.”

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 came within six feet of it.

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

City Manager Mark Alexander said Tuesday that recent bear encounters have prompted him to request increased contact with the Department of Fish and Game. Silversparre said he has asked local wardens to join him during public safety presentations during an upcoming City Council meeting.

Though the Department of Fish and Game has not found reason to try to track or remove the animal, 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.

In an incident that was widely reported, Blair came face to face with the bear at around 2 a.m. last Thursday 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 called 911 immediately after heading back inside.

But that night Blair was doubly surprised, she said, to hear that Sheriff’s deputies would not be hurrying on their 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 its attached 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 site, and intimidating at the same time.”

‘Close the restaurant’

Hughan and Silversparre both recommend that Foothills 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, pet food and any other food item left in reach.

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

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

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

“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.


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