Drought Could Increasingly Lead Wildlife into Populated Areas

At camp, things can go bump in the night. We all know that.

But at your house, you don’t expect a bump in the day at your front gate.

But that’s what happened last week when a bear strolled through yards and along streets in Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel Valley.

Another bear rambled 200 miles from the Eastern Sierra and ended up last week in Oroville, scrounging for food.

Meanwhile, in Yosemite Valley, where you expect it, bears are trolling through campsites for food, and more than one scored last week.

These episodes are the start of what looks like a crazy summer for bear encounters in California and across much of the West. Drought in some regions has meant less vegetation and food for all wildlife, and in turn some bears are leaving the woods to look for meals in backyards. In addition, bear populations are clearly up, and with hunting largely curtailed last year, many have less fear of people.

These encounters last week provide a picture of what is to come:

Monterey stunner: At first, it sounded like a well-organized prank, as residents in Carmel Valley, Pacific Grove and Monterey reported sighting a 250-pound bear walking through their neighborhoods, gates and backyards a week and a half ago. The first search by wildlife officials turned up zilch.

Then last Sunday, in Monterey, the encounter became serious when the bear ripped off the door of a shed to get to the garbage that was stored inside.

Patrol Capt. Don Kelly and game warden Matt Henderson of the Department of Fish and Wildlife were part of a search team.

Kelly said that after the bear was sighted, it ran off and tried to hide under a deck of a house, then departed.

Henderson then found the bear walking through a house’s gate near Prescott Avenue and Lobos Street, around the corner from Compagno’s Market & Deli and less than 1.5 miles from Cannery Row.

Wildlife officials darted the bear with a tranquilizer gun, loaded it in a transporter/cage and released it deep in Los Padres National Forest. If it gets hungry enough, my guess is that it will be back.

Oroville surprise: The northern Sierra Nevada foothills around Oroville are golden brown, the grass dry as tinder and the ground parched from 100-degree days this month. The story of a bear wandering into town last week not only shocked locals, but how the 300-pound bear got there would shock most anybody.

It was sighted along the town’s main drag, Lincoln Street, nearly right across from Nick’s Auto Sales, and from there it headed straight for urban neighborhoods.

For public safety, wildlife officials felt there was no choice but to shoot it, and information from the tracking collar on the bear validated their choice.

Henry Lomeli, a DFW biologist, found that the bear was the same one game wardens had darted a year ago in Big Pine and transported to Inyo National Forest. Big Pine is located in the Owens Valley along Highway 395 just east of the southern Sierra Nevada.

That means the bear traveled more than 250 miles to reach Oroville, and not only crossed the Sierra Nevada, but many highways and dozens of two-lane roads, to get there.

Janice Mackey of the Department of Fish and Wildlife said killing the bear was “absolutely the last thing we want to do.”

Folsom Lake swimmer: You may remember the story from last month, when I was fishing and a huge cinnamon-colored bear swam past my boat. The same thing happened to Tony Mygatt last week at Folsom Lake (of all places), surrounded by humanity just east of Sacramento. Mygatt was near Brown’s Ravine and the Salmon Falls Bridge when a bear showed up and swam within 3 feet of his boat.

Yosemite bear games: At campgrounds in Yosemite Valley, the bears are trolling the area, kind of like UPS drivers checking for daily pickups. Katie Ehler, chief of wildlife management at Yosemite, said that last week bears scored food left on picnic tables. “Bears ate campers’ food after they (the campers, not the bears) failed to store it in a food storage locker.”

Can’t make this up

After the item, “Can’t make this stuff up,” several funny stories were sent in, and it reminded me of a few from my own travels.

Really, really: “A Realtor friend of mine ... told me this a few months ago: She had been visiting the Russian River and when I asked if it was very low due to the drought, she said: “Oh, yes, it was quite low. But we don’t have to worry about the rivers since they come from the ocean” — Diana Tharp

Geography: On one of my trips, I was cruising Highway 1 underneath a brilliant blue sky when I stopped for gas at Fort Bragg in Mendocino County. Across the pump from me was an RV with Iowa plates, and a woman got out to stretch her legs. She gazed out across the sea, turned to me and asked, “Is that the ocean?”

El Niño critters

Purple blobs: The report last week of the giant purple-blob sea slugs from Baja showing up on the beaches of San Francisco Bay along Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda turned out to be just the start of the story. “From Berkeley’s shoreline trail, the sea slugs have expanded,” reported Stephanie Manning. “At low tide, they cover about one third of the Ashby beach. It went from 50 or so to like 500 or thereabouts. They are also on the north end of the little beach at the Emeryville border near Point Emery, the brickyard mudflats in Berkeley.”

Q&A: Q: “Have there been similar reports (of critters from southern waters showing up at points north) from other geographic areas?” — Larry Gagliani. A: Tiny tuna crabs, which look like tiny lobsters, from Mexico washed up by the thousands last week on the beaches of Orange County, in some cases coating the sand red.

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Credit: Tom Stienstra at San Francisco Chronicle