Patsy and Larry Sevison were out of town for over a month when their Tahoe Vista home was broken into by a local bear (or bears, they’re not sure).
The house, as shown in the accompanying photos, was pillaged — refrigerators and drawers and shelves emptied, a glass door shattered, and more. Amid the aftermath, the Sevisons contacted their insurance company, USAA (which initially denied the claim, a decision the Sevisons fought and won, gaining coverage), the BEAR League, and the California departments of Insurance and Fish and Wildlife. COIT Cleaning & Restoration of Reno was called in by USAA to deep-clean the house.
Patsy Sevison says she’s bear-proofing their home for future trips away with motion-detecting devices that make loud noises, bear wiring and mats, buckets of industrial-strength ammonia inside, and security cameras —
all near home entrances.
In this month’s YATA, officials from local organizations/agencies outline what to do after a bear break-in.
What happens after a bear break-in to a residential or commercial property?
Ideally, the break-in should be reported to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) so that the department can track conflict-bear activity and support property owners to prevent further damage in the area. Bear break-ins can be reported either by phone at (916) 358-2917 or online at the department’s Wildlife Incident Reporting (WIR) system at apps.wildlife.ca.gov/wir. The property should be cleaned up and secured immediately to prevent another break-in by the offending bear or another bear taking advantage of the easy entry. At a property owner’s request, CDFW staff are available to consult and share best practices to make the property less attractive to bears. In cases of extreme damage, at a property owner’s request, CDFW may be available to conduct a site inspection and collect DNA evidence from the break-in to see if the bear’s DNA matches any known conflict-bears in the area. CDFW staff can also explain the depredation permit process. [Editor’s note: a depredation permit is a legal document obtained by a homeowner or tenant from CDFW to address a problem predator who is injuring or killing livestock, poultry, or pets; or causing property damage.] Prevention is the first and often the most effective step in living and recreating in bear country. It’s up to all of us to help keep California’s bears wild and conflict-free.
~ Peter Tira, CDFW public information officer
Every bear break-in is handled on a case-by-case basis. Generally, after a break-in, if the bear was not captured while inside the house, the Nevada Department of Wildlife will set a culvert trap. We also collect DNA from inside the house (swabs of saliva, chewed items, hair, blood). If a bear is captured, we will collect a DNA sample from that bear and send all the samples to California’s Wildlife Forensic Laboratory while holding the bear in a secure location. Typically, they provide a return on the results within 24 hours. If DNA matches, a panel of individuals within NDOW, including our bear biologists and our director’s office, take into consideration a variety of factors on the individual bear, including its history, age, gender, and even the climatic pressures, such as drought. The outcome of a bear’s life is not taken lightly and often there can be extended discussions about options. Depending on the specific situation, options could include releasing a bear in its home range; if the bear is dispersal age, translocating it away from urban areas; or if the bear is determined to be a threat to public safety, because it has become dependent on humans and their homes for food, the panel could make the difficult decision to kill the bear.
Again, it’s all case by case, but in every situation, we learn as much about the bear as possible and ideally confirm a DNA match. NDOW’s biologists also work with the homeowners to secure any points of entry and advise them on how to avoid future break-ins. NDOW’s goal is to ensure the safety and security of Nevada’s residents and bears.
~ Ashley Sanchez, NDOW public information officer
If a bear gets into your house and someone is inside, the most important detail to remember is not to block his escape route. When the bear realizes you are home, he will be in a panic to get out — they always leave the same way they came in. In the hundreds of indoor bear/human encounters the BEAR League has investigated, injuries to people rarely occurred, and only when someone inadvertently blocked the bear’s exit. (The bear ‘pushed’ the person out of his way.)
Think fast. Figure out how he got in. Immediately move to a safe location, far away from his exit route, and yell loudly and aggressively, stomp and pound hard on the floor or walls, and make him think you are dangerous. Be territorial — he knows this is your den, not his — he knows he’s been caught trespassing. Don’t run and hide and submissively allow him to raid your fridge. Make noise! Scare him! If you quietly hide under the bed or in the closet, you are telling him he can have anything he wants, and he will be your friend for life. Remember, he did not come in to steal your jewelry or to kill you, his only goal is to plunder calories. Call the BEAR League or the police/sheriff and we’ll get someone to help while talking you through how to safely scare him out as you wait for us to arrive.
Before a bear gets inside it’s important to do everything possible to keep him out. Bears enter homes either by “soft entry” — an unlocked or open window or door — or by actual “break-in,” where they smash or break something to gain entry. For the soft entry, the fix is easy; always keep windows and doors closed and locked unless you are right there. If a bear breaks something to get inside (French and Dutch doors and single pane windows are notoriously vulnerable), place an electrical bear mat in front of the opening because the bear will be back. These can be purchased locally, or BEAR League loans them out at no cost. Remember, if a bear came inside and got a food reward, he will be back. Be ready for him. Don’t allow him to make your kitchen his new favorite restaurant.
If you discover a bear has been in your home but he’s gone now, call BEAR League so we can loan you a bear mat and help make sure he does not ever get back inside again.
Contact BEAR League at (530) 525-7297 (525-PAWS) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
~ Ann Bryant, BEAR League