Deforestation an unlikely cause in bear's visit to La Crescenta, official says

An ursine troublemaker was tranquilized and taken deep into the Angeles National Forest on Tuesday morning after repeat visits to area homes, but foothills residents shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for their next “Yogi Bear” moment.

California Fish and Game officials say bear visits are not on the rise in and around La Cañada Flintridge, despite the fact that bears are waking up earlier than usual this year because of the warm winter.

“Normally they hibernate and they go down and they lie around all winter,” Fish and Game spokesman Andrew Hughan said. “Because of the weather this year … bears have come out, they’re hungry, they’re looking around.”

With bears roused from their winter lethargy earlier than usual, their natural diet of berries, insects and fish isn’t yet abundant enough, sending them into human territory for food, said Hughan. Deforestation from the 2009 Station fire is not a likely cause of the bear’s visit, he added.

On Tuesday morning La Crescenta residents flocked to an apartment building on the 2300 block of Mayfield Avenue to get a glimpse of the bear thought to be the same one who over the past month has pillaged trash bins and backyard citrus trees, usually late at night. That bear famously pried open a refrigerator in a North Glendale garage several weeks ago to feast on frozen meatballs.

“I’ve never seen a bear [in the neighborhood], but I’ve heard about them,” said Rod Berns, a La Crescenta resident who came to see if authorities needed help carrying the tranquilized bear out, and then stuck around with his daughter, Taylor, to watch events unfold.

A collection of more than 100 bear-watchers – half of whom appeared to be members of TV news crews — crowded Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies in front of the building. With three helicopters circling overhead and some people sprinting across the street as he was hauled to a truck by officials cradling him in a tarp, the bear — said to weigh about 400 pounds — could be forgiven for thinking he had been captured in Hollywood.

The bear was ear-tagged and driven to an undisclosed location deep within Angeles National Forest, where Fish and Game officials expect him to look for another source of food.

Hughan said the now-famous meatball incident can serve as an example for homeowners seeking to avoid bear encounters.

“If the guy had either cleaned out his freezer or closed the freezer door, that bear would never would have come in,” he said. “Black bears are not so aggressive where they’re going to kick down a door to get food.”

Officials also suggest people clean out their trash bins with bleach or other materials, store bins inside except for pickup day, and that residents harvest their fruit before other species try to do the same.

Fish and Game Lt. Martin Wall, who led the bear removal effort Tuesday, has said that black bears dislike confrontation. But on Tuesday he emphasized that if residents see a bear, they should call the authorities and stay away. The number for the regional office of the Department of Fish and Game is (858) 467-4201.

“He’s a large wild animal, and as such, is unpredictable. You don’t want to be where he is or where he wants to be,” Wall said.

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