Guidelines for Living In and Visiting Bear and Mountain Lion Habitat

Graphic of bear with message, This guy has reservations with your trash.

Because bears (and other animals) are attracted to anything edible or scented, improper storage of human food and other scented items and improper disposal of refuse is a leading cause of human-bear conflict. Requiring proper food storage and refuse disposal is expected to reduce human-bear conflict by preventing bears and other wildlife from obtaining human food sources. The Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit issued the final decision for Forest Order No. 19-14-14 that requires proper storage of food and refuse at Fallen Leaf and Meeks Bay campgrounds and Meeks Bay Resort beginning October 1, 2014. Read the entire news release.

Download the Forest Order at Food and Refuse Storage Restrictions Order Number 19-17-02.

Learn more about how to keep Lake Tahoe's bears wild by watching this video from Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW):
Urban Bears - Keeping Nevada's Bears Wild!  

Black Bears

  • The only species of bears in California and Nevada are Black Bears. However, they do range in color from blonde to black, with cinnamon brown being the most common color.
  • There are an estimated 25,000 to 35,000 black bears in California and 200 to 300 in Nevada.
  • Black Bears will seek to avoid confrontation with humans. If encountered, always leave them an escape route.
  • Males are much larger than females and can weigh up to 500 pounds, although the average weight is about 300 pounds.
  • Black Bears can sprint up to 35 mph and they are strong swimmers and great tree climbers.
  • Black Bears are omnivores. A typical wild bear diet consists of berries, plants, nuts, roots, honey, honeycomb, insects, larvae, carrion and small mammals.
  • As winter approaches, bears will forage for food up to 20 hours a day, storing enough fat to sustain them through hibernation. Bears often hibernate in large hollow trees 40 to 50 feet off the ground!
  • Bears that are accustomed to people can become too bold and lose their fear of humans. To avoid this behavior, do not let bears become habituated to human sources of food.

Camping With Bears

  • Never leave food, toiletries and/or anything with a scent in your tent, sleeping bag or car.
  • Keep sleeping bags, tents and sleeping areas free of food and beverage odors.
  • Store food in bear-proof canisters or bear-proof lockers if provided. The trunk of your car and coolers are not bear-proof!
  • Do not leave out food, stored drinks or diapers. The smell will attract bears.
  • Clean everything after preparing a meal.
  • Dispose of garbage properly. If a bear-proof dumpster is not available, store your garbage in bear-proof lockers often provided at campgrounds, until it can be disposed of properly.
  • When backpacking, use a bear-proof Backpacker's Cache to store your food. These really work and are available for free rental through the US Forest Service Visitor's Center at Taylor Creek and at South Lake Tahoe Forest Service office.
  • When departing an area, empty all goods and refuse from any containers or food storage lockers left behind.
  • Remember, never feed a bear!

Bear-proof Your Property

Graphic of bear with message, Trash Day is a Bear's Buffet.

  • Wait to put trash out until collection day.
  • Don't leave trash, groceries or animal feed in your car.
  • Keep garbage cans clean and deodorize them with bleach or unscented ammonia.
  • Harvest fruit off trees as soon as it is ripe, and promptly collect fruit that falls.
  • Do not feed wildlife.
  • Keep barbecue grills clean.
  • Feed pets inside.
  • Securely block access to sites such as crawl spaces under decks and buildings to reduce the potential of hibernation under structures.
  • Don't leave any scented products outside, even non-food items such as suntan lotion, insect repellent, soap and/or candles.
  • Keep doors and windows secure from intrusions. Scents can lure bears inside.
  • When unoccupied, empty cabins of all food and scented products or keep them in a scent free, bear-proof container.

A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear!

Once habituated to human sources of food, bears will seek them out, creating conflicts with humans. The bear's behavior will not stop voluntarily, and unless the nuisance behavior can be corrected, bears may be killed for various reasons including property damage or due to collisions with vehicles. In order to avoid these deaths, the food source must be removed.

Prevention is the Key

Bears that visit human occupied areas are usually in search of food. You will be less likely to have encounters with bears if the recommended precautions are taken, so that bears do not associate humans with a source of food. Once they do, they become habituated to humans. Relocating habituated bears relocates the problem, it does not solve it. It is illegal in California and strongly discouraged in Nevada to feed bears, and many communities have ordinances penalizing those who feed wild animals.

Bear Encounters

In Your Yard:  Do not run. Be aggressive and assert your dominance by standing tall and making noise that will scare the bear away. Banging pots and pans together and shouting loudly works well.

In the Woods:  This is the bear's territory, respect that and do not run.Make eye contact cut don't stare, pick up small children, make yourself appear as large as possible, stay calm and quiet, back away and enjoy the experience from a safe distance.

Anywhere:  If the bear attempts to get away, do not block the bear's escape route! Bears will often climb a tree if frightened and usually won't come down it humans or dogs are present.

  • Never get between a mom and her cubs.
  • Slowly walk away and make a loud noise.
  • Though attacks are very rare, if you are attacked, fight back aggressively!

For more information about coexisting with bears, visit the websites below

California Department of Fish and ‚ÄčWildlife
1416 Ninth St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 984-7123

Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care Center
1485 Cherry Hills Circle
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
(530) 577-2273

National Park Service
Staying Safe Around Bears

Nevada Division of Wildlife
1100 Valley Rd.
Reno, NV 89512
(775) 688-1500 General Info
(775) 688-1331 Report Incidents to Dispatch

Tahoe Council for Wild Bears
P.O. Box 393
Homewood, CA 96141

Mountain Lions

  • The mountain lion is also known as cougar, panther, or puma. Body coloration can range from tan to gray and cubs are usually covered with blackish brown spots.
  • Adult males may be more than 8 feet long (from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail), and can weigh between 130 and 150 pounds. Adult females can be 7 feet long and weigh between 65 and 90 pounds.
  • Generally speaking, mountain lions can be found wherever deer are present. Usual habitat is steep, rocky canyons or mountainous terrain. Mountain lions can be found in deserts as well as coastal forests, and from sea level to 10,000-foot elevations.
  • An adult male's home range is typically over 100 square miles and females generally use smaller areas, approximately 20 to 60 square miles.
  • Mountain lion populations in California are estimated to be between 4,000 and 6,000.

Hiking and Camping in Mountain Lion Habitat

  • Do not hike alone. Go in groups, with adults supervising children. Avoid dawn and dusk excursions.
  • Keep children close to you. Animals seem especially drawn to children; keep children within sight at all times.
  • Do not approach a lion. Most mountain lions will try to avoid confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
  • Do not run from a lion. Running may stimulate a mountain lion's instinct to chase.
  • Do not crouch down or bend over. A human standing does not resemble a mountain lion's natural prey.
  • Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open jacket if wearing one. Pick up small children. Wave arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice.
  • Fight back if attacked. Mountain lions usually try to bite the head or neck; try to remain standing and face the attacking animal.

Living in Mountain Lion Habitat

People and mountain lions now occupy much of the same geographical areas in California. If you live in mountain lion habitat, here are some tips to reduce your chances of an encounter:

  • Don't feed wildlife. Feeding deer, raccoons, or other wildlife in your yard can attract mountain lions, which prey upon them.
  • Deer proof your yard. Avoid plants that deer prefer to eat. If your yard attracts deer, mountain lions may be close by. 
  • Landscape for safety. Dense and low lying vegetation can provide good hiding places for mountain lions. Avoid this type of vegetation, particularly around children's play areas. This will make it difficult for mountain lions to approach your yard without being seen.
  • Install outdoor lighting. The perimeter of your home should be well lit at night, especially along walkways, to help keep lions visible.
  • Secure your pets. Mountain lions often prey on wandering pets. Keep pets inside or in a kennel with a secure top. Don't feed pets outside as this can attract mountain lion prey.
  • Keep livestock secure. Livestock should be kept in enclosed sheds or barns at night.
  • Keep Children Safe. Watch your children closely whenever they play outdoors. Make sure they are inside between dusk and dawn and teach your children what to do if they encounter a Mountain Lion.

For more information about coexisting with mountain lions, visit the website below

Keep Me Wild
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
1416 Ninth St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 984-7123

Mountain Lion Foundation
PO Box 1896
Sacramento, CA 95812

Download Mountain Lion Safety Tips Poster PDF link:  You may download the Adobe Reader for free by following this link to the Adobe web site.

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