Coastal, Cuffy’s Cove, was named after the Russian word for “bear”. Mid-February 2022, I came home to the contents of my outside refrigerator scattered on the floor of the shed. Previously, the fridge sat there for three years, undisturbed by predators. Thinking it was stripped by raccoon, only the bottom shelves were emptied. The top freezer compartment hadn’t been touched. I cleaned up the mess, washed out the refrigerator, and tied a kayak strap around the lower breached compartment to foil folly in the event of their return. But before I could get to the store to buy the childproof locks, the next night, the freezer too, was emptied. The empty packaging of all else scattered throughout the forest undergrowth leading to the game trail.
While in Boontberry Market a few days later, I overheard Derrick talk about our neighbors suffering insult from bear “disturbances” to hen houses, and the like. Even though we have a seriously-used game trail on the property, I never saw a bear on the property where I live. I’ve watched mountain lion with twin cubs, lynx, bobcat, fisher cats and deer use the trail, but never a bear… yet. When I returned home, and as I collected the trail rubbish mid-day, I noticed bear splat and fallen limbs broken to bits from where the bear rolled around to scratch, and maybe even took a nap after eating; the grasses lain down, matted. Black bear are berry eating bear. When they defecate, it’s called bear splat, because of the diarrhetic affect of the berries.
A month went by before it happened again. It was midnight and I was up late finishing a movie when my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t eaten dinner. I had a hankering for a Waldorf salad snack from the refrigerator. I undid the childproof clasp, opened the refrigerator and with both hands full of ingredients, didn’t latch the lock, knowing I’d return shortly to return the remaining perishables to the fridge. As I cut the fruit and chopped the walnuts, I saw the refrigerator light go on in the darkness of the shed. I looked out the back window to find the bear sitting placidly, gazing like a human into the contents of the refrigerator, contemplating what to eat first. The bear’s contented posture was so human-like, I fondly remembered one of my favorite endearing bear stories as a child, “Blueberries for Sal”.
Shaking off empathy, I banged on the window and scared it out of the shed, but could see its legs where it stood just outside the frame of the building, trying to out-wait me. As I continued attempts to startle the bear, it eventually lumbered over to a 100 foot fir tree and effortlessly lurched ten feet up onto the three foot round trunk and hung there with its sharp nails buried into the thick bark. It hung there for a minute or two looking at me as I shined the torchlight in its face. Finally it descended to the ground around the tree and sat there looking sheepishly, trying to avoid the LED light flooding its face. Now and then it would awkwardly scratch the tree like a cat extending its claws. I took that as a sign of uncertain aggression. Finally the bear, losing patience, returned to the refrigerator, batting the door 180 degrees open with a paw. I screamed at it, and the bear left the shed once more, standing again by the fir tree rocking uncertainly, to and fro. A third attempt at the fridge, it grabbed from the door, a big brick of butter between its teeth and fled. The stench from the bear was palpable in the air. I could smell it the minute I stepped outside.
Even though it was 12:30 at night, I phoned and awoke my favorite hip-neck cowboy, Ernie Pardini, to ask for help. Ernie must sleep with his boots on, because he lives just down the hill and was on site, pronto without complaint. I needed someone who’d encountered a few bears to shine headlights and make noise while I stepped out to lock the latch on the fridge, and that’s what we did. When I warned Ernie not to exit his truck immediately because I had no idea where the bear hid, the retired logger responded, “I ain’t afraid of no bear!”. As he marched forward, he whooped and hollered at the bear, scaring it into transient retreat.
Ernie and I sat around for a bit, telling ghost stories, waiting without luck for the bear’s return. Still able to smell the strong bear scent, Ernie said the bear might have been a boar (male) if I could smell it that strongly. After Ernie left, it was only minutes, nearing 1 a.m. before the bear returned. I watched as it tried to re-open the fridge without luck. Obvious that this was not the bear’s first encounter with the anatomy of a refrigerator, it walked around to the rear of the fridge, stood up, and attempted to push the six foot fridge over on its face probably hoping it would flop open. However, one of the adjustable feet became stuck under the pallet on which it sat, making it impossible to tip over – instead, merely turning the fridge sideways. The bear returned to the front of the fridge and fleetingly bit the bottom left corner of the door to pull it open, in one last frustrated attempt at ...finding food. Finally, at about 2:15 a.m., I heard no more from the brown colored black bear with a speckled nose, and laid awake the rest of the night from the excitement.
Each time a bear comes around, you can hear it loping through the woods. Bear are not light footed; nor silent like deer or cougar. They bump and thump, claw, scrape and scratch themselves against trees, roll on limbs, breaking them to scratch their stinking hides, alerting you to their arrival.
Again, for the third consecutive night, before 5:00 p.m., I felt the vibration of a thump from outside. Looking out the window, a smaller teenagerish bear circled the shed. My hens were still out loose, but in no danger, as the bear ignored them. It was still light out. I stepped out the door beating on a metal pot as I verbally menaced. Surprised at how easily the bear gave up, it took off uphill, disappearing into the woods toward the dump.
Feeling another thump and rumble outside, within an hour, a second much larger bear arrived. I got a good picture of it this time, having reset the game cam, aiming it directly at the refrigerator. Having no success with the locked refrigerator, the bear chose to attack a tightly sealed bucket of chicken grain scratch. It stepped on the sidewall of the rigid waterproof bucket after knocking it over, and the sturdy screw-on lid easily popped off like toothpaste out of a tube. Grain covered the ground. The bear munched a couple bites before returning to the refrigerator, trying once more to force it open, without luck.
Each night I called Fish and Wildlife to report the bear’s invasion to learn that they would do nothing, but give advice and ask if I wanted to participate in a future scientific survey to determine the nature of the animal’s encroachment. Mr. White added that ammonia on rags left lying around is an aroma bears usually avoid, so try that. (Ammonia didn’t work.) When I mentioned shooting it myself, he said it’s very difficult to kill a bear because their heads are so strong and thick, you can only kill with a heart shot. Then he offered that bean bags are sometimes shot at bear to dissuade intrusions, not to injure, but to sting and scare away.
I hadn’t seen a bean bag gun since I was in Israel in the 1980’s. Rubber bullet guns, too, also used in Berkeley for riot control during the one and only Berkeley anarchists convention circa 1990.
“Gee, I’m fresh outa bean bag bullets. Any other suggestions?”, I inquired.
Mr. White informed that a permit is necessary to shoot and kill a bear, especially if it’s not bear season, and that you can’t shoot a bear at night; only in the daylight hours. Hunting dogs are now outlawed, too. A lot of legal parameters around the dispatch of bear. To top it off, legislation was passed a couple of years ago, superseding all the legal parameters, making it illegal to hunt bear, with a moratorium on permits: period. The point being, there haven’t been any bear permits issued in the two years, since legislation changed, and as a result, bears have overpopulated as well as moved to lower ground in search of water during drought, also increasing their numbers to residential areas and food sources.
Mr. White assessed that the bear presently is a nuisance; not a crisis, since black bear don’t usually attack humans unless there are baby cubs involved. I was left to suppose, since there are not yet any reported maulings in our vicinity. The small bear seemed aloof, while the larger more persistent. I would not call either bear aggressive; simply hungry. Often you hear of hikers encountering bear who simply run away when meeting humans in nature. Mostly black bear, which dominate Northern California, are unlike the nearly extinct grizzly that used to populate Montana and Utah.
My sister once worked in Montana’s Glacier National Park’s MacDonald Lodge during the 1960’s. She loved to hop trains from one lodge to another, camp and hike. About five years after she quit working there and had moved to New Mexico where she raised her family, she decided to return to Glacier on vacation. She left her six month old daughter with our mum; and her husband, myself, sis, and their four year old son all drove to Glacier. On the way, while the four year old slept, we read aloud, “Glacier Park’s Night of the Grizzlies”, the story of a terrible bear mauling of three sleeping campers in mummy bags mauled in Glacier National Park in August of 1967. One of the Glacier employees, mauled and killed in the grizzly attack, also lived in MacDonald Lodge at the time of her death. In addition, another young woman and a man were also mauled, leading to the deaths of both young women, while the man lived to tell his story. It was a chilling book.
It turned out oddly, that the maulings occurred simultaneously by two separate grizzlies, in different areas of Glacier National Park. One bear had gnoshed on glass, sinking painfully, shards between its teeth and gums. The second bear was a mother of two cubs, who had a bad cut on her paw, causing obvious pain. Both bear were shot and killed, examined, and stomachs emptied to find human contents therein.
It was the trash that campers left behind in Glacier National Park that was blamed for the maulings. The entire episode of both bear attacks that night, brought about new rules in the park, having to do with packing out all trash, leaving no food stuffs behind for the wild animals.
Since removing the refrigerator (source of food for bears), I realized I was now on their route. They continue to appear, looking for food, which I’ve removed, keeping inside now. All chicken feed goes in a locker, too. I’ve installed electric horse fencing around my abode. The last visit I had from a bear was three nights ago when the teenager showed up again. I was sitting in my car silently answering text messages when I saw it approach in my peripheral vision. When I looked up, it was walking two feet away from my front bumper, eyes fixed on the spot where it would normally enter to reach the refrigerator. I had been working on the electric fence, and it was off, therefore. The bear walked right through the fencing. It had no idea I sat in the car. I watched it before turning on the car to scare it away. I saw its hind end exit the shed as it ran out the back way. Human-like, it stood erect, one paw on the tree as it peeked around the large trunk. When our eyes met, it dove off into the bushes like a diver into water.
Fish & Wildlife gave me the number of a trapper named Brennan (who’s earned the name, “Mad Dog” Brennan), who informed me that should Fish and Wildlife issue a permit, which is unlikely, he would come out and trap the animal. He informed me hunting with dogs had also been outlawed since the moratorium went into effect. The trapping a death sentence, as all bears trapped, are shot and killed by the trapper.
I talked to another woman living on Lambert Lane, who found a bear in her pantry freezer one night when she opened the door off her kitchen. We both decided that we would rather not have bear killed, but plan on securing our food better and out of the way.
I checked out the bear deterrents at Big 5 Sporting Goods, and one of the camping experts told me that bear spray works best on brown bear and grizzly, but not on black bear. She suggested I buy a marine horn to blast when bear appear. They don’t like the noise.
As well I checked out the Fish and Wildlife website and was disappointed. First of all, it showed suggestions like using Pine Sol instead of ammonia as a deterrent. Other tips were about as useless: bear spray and talk radio. However, all wisely suggested not letting the bear form habits of visiting your property to find food, by eliminating food sources.
I hope bear can hear me whistling, cuz that’s what I do now when walking around the property, not to surprise. They mostly run away and hide, trying to out wait me. I’ve heard folks refer to berry-eating black bear as large raccoon. I would have to agree with that assessment.