Piece of Mind: Digging for the bear explanation

Sometime Wednesday morning, while flipping between a TV news interview with tearful Olympic athlete Lolo Jones (her feelings hurt by a New York Times piece critical of her track performances in recent days) and an update on the series of earthquakes that began the night before, I landed on a channel showing a teaser for an upcoming segment: A neighborhood in the foothills was again reporting a bear sighting.

Actually, this time it was an ursine trio, a mother and her two cubs. The two little ones played in a swimming pool while their parental unit presumably took on the role of lifeguard.

The news promo did its job: I endured the commercials in order to find out exactly where these bears had been sighted. Was it in our city (again)? La Crescenta (again)? Glendale (again)? Pasadena (again)? Altadena? Sierra Madre? Monrovia? Duarte?

I learned when the commercials were over that the latest frolic took place on Riviera Drive in East Pasadena. It was reported that the family of black bears ambled back up into the Angeles National Forest on Monday night, once they'd had their fill of water games and grub.

Yes, the Olympics have caught my attention, and the fantastic Mars landing Sunday night of the rover Curiosity completely wowed me (yay, JPLers!). But the numerous bear sightings reported in La Cañada Flintridge alone over the past couple of years, added to the visits to our neighboring communities, have left me wondering what the heck is going on.

A state Department of Fish and Game spokesman interviewed a few times in 2011 and 2012 for stories that have appeared in our paper insists the uptick in visits to the urban interface by bears has nothing to do with the 2009 Station fire and just about everything to do with the delicious food we humans either grow in our gardens or throw into our trash cans.

I'll buy his explanation partially, but come on! People have been growing fruit and throwing away T-bones here for more than 140 years. In the 15 years I've worked at the Valley Sun, I've pored through vintage editions of the paper dating back to 1946 and have seen very few articles on the subject of bear visits. That changed in April 2011, when we learned that a bear had stolen chickens from a backyard on Bonita Vista Drive, in the upper Alta Canyada area.

Asking around then, we were told that the Paradise Valley area at the top of Ocean View Boulevard had been experiencing visits from a bear every Sunday night for “at least four months,” according to Pat Anderson, who lives in that neighborhood and had a close encounter with one of the animals herself. That told us a bear had been active in our neighborhoods since December 2010.

There was more: We had a phone message left at our office after 11 o'clock one night in late 2011 saying there was a bear rummaging around garbage cans near La Cañada Flintridge Country Club. A couple of months later, I had an email from a Forest Green Drive resident who returned home one night to see a bear in the front yard of a neighbor's home. “That was a surprise,” she wrote to me.

This spring, Southland media (including our newspapers) documented repeated visits to Glendale/La Crescenta neighborhoods by the male bruin who came to be known variously as “Meatball” and “Glen Bearian” — and his two subsequent relocations about 25 to 30 miles deep into the Angeles National Forest. (Shall we take bets on how soon he'll be back to his old haunts?)

Not to be outdone by him, another black bear has been frequenting Pomander Place in Flintridge this summer, on trash pick-up days.

We haven't named him yet, although I did make a feeble Facebook plea for some suggestions when the best we could come up in our office was “Rover.” (The replies elicited from a few of my friends, in case you're interested: Troy, Spartacus, Phantom, Boomerang and Heartburn.)

The bears and their visits do not alarm me, but that may be because I haven't yet found myself eyeball-to-eyeball with one of them. But I am wondering why so many sightings are being made. If it's not because the Station fire denuded our forest, what is the reason for the increase in visits? Is it just a few hungry bears that are making the local scene frequently, or are there several of them? Has the bear population grown in recent years, perhaps to a level that could be more problematic? Or do we just have more tools these days, via social media, to let people know what we're experiencing in our backyards?

Stay tuned. Should any answers come my way, I'll share them.

CAROL CORMACI is managing editor of the Valley Sun. She can be reached at carol.cormaci@latimes.com.

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