The Bear Facts: A Conversation with Pete Figura – Bears are Common Redding Visitors

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You may recall that Sunday, a black bear romped through my Garden Tract neighborhood in Redding. He made a stop on my roof and exited through my back yard before touring other parts of downtown. Eventually, he was “darted”  by Pete Figura of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Today, Figura updates us on the condition of our downtown Redding bear, and answers other wildlife questions.  

Pete Figura, Environmental Scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Q: Pete Figura, I know you are busy, so we appreciate your taking time to talk with us today at aNewsCafe.com. Thank you!

First, can you tell us a little about you, and your job?

I am an Environmental Scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. I have worked here in Redding for about 15 years – five  years working on timberland planning and review and 10 years working in wildlife management. Much of my work involves surveying, monitoring and conserving wildlife populations (game animals, nongame animals, and rare or threatened species). But a sizeable component of the job also involves responding to public questions and concerns about wildlife.

Q: So that explains why you were called about the bear in downtown Redding Sunday. It was actually on my roof at one point, so I got a good look at it. It had shiny jet-black fur, and at least from my vantage point, it looked big. What can you tell us about that particular bear?

The bear was a male and, based on general body condition, seemingly healthy. The condition of its teeth suggested it was not particularly young or particularly old – probably in the ballpark of 4-6 years old. We estimated the bear weighed approximately 175 pounds.

Q: Funny how perspective is when a citizen like myself sees a bear up close. I could have sworn the bear was 500 pounds. OK, so what can you tell us about black bears in general?

Although coat color varies considerably (from black to brown to reddish to nearly blonde), all bears currently native to California are black bears Ursus americanus. Grizzly bears, a subspecies of brown bear (Ursus arctos), were once common in California. However, no grizzly has been documented in California since the 1920s.

The black bear population has increased significantly in recent decades, and the Department estimates that there are over 30,000 bears in California. Bears are very common residents of most of the wildlands of Shasta County, including the areas surrounding and adjacent to Redding.

Based on the origins and volume of public calls year after year, hotspots of bear activity near human dwellings include Lakehead, Keswick, [Old] Shasta, west of Redding in the general vicinity of Placer/Swasey/Muletown roads, Happy Valley, and Round Mountain/Montgomery Creek.

Bears do wander into Redding with some regularity, typically along creeks and green belts. Female bears with cubs have been seen on several occasions this fall in the Mary Lake subdivision, near the subdivisions atop Quartz Hill Road, even along Sulphur Creek near the Sundial Bridge.

Q: Do you have a guess of the Sunday bear’s original home? I mean, are there bears actually living in undeveloped areas in and around Redding?

There are definitely bears regularly utilizing undeveloped areas in and around Redding. As for the typical “home” of this bear, it is difficult to say.

I can remember three other incidents in the past dozen years where bears have been in the downtown area, but just a bit further west. A bear was killed on Butte Street near Placer, another was captured and relocated on Gold Street near Airpark, and another was killed on Placer near Airpark. I suspect those bears entered the downtown area via the greenbelts associated with Canyon Hollow, Linden Creek, and/or Calaboose Creek.

Deer are regularly seen in those and nearby smaller drainages as well, suggesting that they function as corridors that can lead wildlife into the city. It is possible this bear may have come the same way, but just wandered a bit further east into town. However, last week we also received reports of bear sign (tracks, etc.) across the Sacramento River near the north end of Bechelli Lane and Turtle Bay East. If the same bear was the source of those reports, it is possible that it came into town along the river. There have been several reports of bears in the vicinity of Turtle Bay in recent years, suggesting that the river also provides a functional corridor into the center of town.

Q: When were you called in Sunday, where exactly was the bear at that point? How did you proceed?

I was at home early Sunday morning working on a cup of coffee when I received a call from CDFW warden Mitch Carlson about the bear. I hurried to the office (conveniently located, in this case, on Locust Street) to pick up immobilization gear and then went to the slope on East Street behind Sakura Sushi, where RPD, warden Carlson, and warden Jeremy Bonesio had located the bear.

Before we could capture the bear, it climbed a chain link fence at the top of the slope and proceeded to run rather quickly through a used car lot, across Pine Street, over part of the Ponderosa Inn, across Market Street, and along Cliff Drive. The bear climbed over another fence and entered a backyard on Cliff. It finally climbed a tree in the lower part of the yard, on a steep slope just above Market Street. Bears are surprisingly fast and agile when they want to be!

It was great that the bear climbed the tree, as that ended its uncontrolled romp through town. The Redding Police Department and Fire Department quickly closed the nearby portion of Market Street, and we decided that chemically immobilizing (“darting”) and removing the bear was the best option.

Q: Wow. I’m amazed at how much area the bear covered, and how many streets he crossed.

I did see the KRCR video of the bear falling from the tree after it was darted. It looked like it hit a fence, or maybe it was something else. I was worried that he was injured. What kind of shape was the bear in after it landed?

Removing a bear from a tree is often challenging for people and dangerous for the bear. There are two potential outcomes after a bear in a tree is immobilized – it either falls asleep” in the tree, often precariously balanced on a few branches, or it falls out of the tree. If the former, it needs to be manually removed – typically via climbing, ropes, etc. If the latter, the bear is sometimes injured, or even killed.

In this case, the bear fell from the tree. Despite the relatively long drop, the bear seemed to weather the fall fairly well. The glancing blow from the fence, the steep slope, and other plants beneath the tree may have lessened the impact of the fall. The only obvious external injury was a laceration to its face below its eye. We applied antibiotic ointment to the laceration. My biggest concern was that the bear suffered a significant spinal or head injury during the fall.

But we watched the animal at the release site until it regained normal responses and motor control. Its respiration rate was normal throughout the immobilization period and there were no obvious signs of internal bleeding or injury. Ultimately, we watched it stand up and walk away, and all limbs seemed to be functioning normally as it disappeared from sight.

This black bear, now No. 27,  was relocated after his Sunday romp through downtown Redding. Here, he is just waking up from being darted. Photo courtesy of Pete Figura, California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Q: I am so relieved to hear that the bear’s OK. And thanks for providing this great photo of him as he’s waking up. He really is a handsome guy.

Now, how does the whole relocation part work?

First, the Department relocates very few bears. We do not generally relocate “nuisance” bears – those that are raiding garbage cans, frequenting yards, or showing other signs of habituation to humans. Also, we also do not relocate bears that are found adjacent to typical “bear habitat”, even if those areas are somewhat close to dwellings (e.g., many green belts).

However, in the cases of “no harm, no foul” bears like this one – those that just seem to have taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in a location with no easy and safe route back to typical “bear habitat” – we will remove them and transport them back into suitable bear habitat. Those sites include public lands within a 20 mile radius of the capture site.

Q: You tagged the bear, too. Why?

Two reasons. First, we tag them so that we know them should they be found in a similar situation in the future. And second, it is bear hunting season. If a hunter were to harvest this particular bear, we would want them to contact us prior to consuming any of the meat, since the bear has been injected intramuscularly with immobilizing drugs.

Q: I just heard today about another black bear that was hit by a vehicle and killed along Eureka Way Monday morning or Sunday night along Highway 299 west near the cemetery. But if the Eureka Way bear was a tagged bear, you could know if it was one you’d previously relocated, right?

Correct.

Photo by James Mazzotta.

Photo by James Mazzotta.

Q: A friend snapped some photos, and called in the Eureka Way bear. CalTrans came, picked it up and hauled it away. In situations like that, do other agencies and law enforcement always report the animals to the DFW? Is it better for the public to call the DFW to report wild animals, dead or alive?

Other agencies generally do not report all road kills to DFW. But I assume that most parties picking up marked animals would generally report them. The tags used on the bear are actually labeled “contact DFW”.

We are happy to receive reports of live and dead animals that are found in anomalous settings (e.g., bears and lions in urban areas) or any sightings of less frequently seen animals (e.g., badgers, fishers, martens, red foxes, etc.). The number of the Redding office is 530-225-2300.

For reporting road kills, there is also an excellent website (run in part by UC Davis) called the California Roadkill Observation System.

Q: Are there increased numbers of wild animals – like bears and mountain lions – being reported within populated areas? Can you give us some numbers that tell the story?

I’ve been here long enough and answered enough phone calls to have concluded that every year seems to be a “bad” year for bears, lions, etc. in Redding! Bears, lions, coyotes, deer, and a host of other animals have been showing up in and near town regularly and for a long time. But this year does seem to have been an extraordinary one for bears.

That said, quantifying changes in wildlife populations in human-populated areas is difficult. First, we generally do not conduct surveys in populated areas. And second, public sighting reports are difficult to quantify and analyze because they often are reported through various channels/employees and sometimes do not make it into a central database. We are working on improving that, by the way!

Additionally, we often receive many reports about one or a few animals, which tends to skew reporting data somewhat. Nonetheless, those sighting and incident reports from 2009 through 2014 show that bear reports were fairly stable from 2009-2013 but have spiked during 2014. For mountain lions, reports have been fairly consistent from 2009-2014, although for some reason they spiked in 2012.

Another metric that provides an index of large animal activity near humans/populated areas is the number of “depredation permits” issued by CDFW to kill certain species (including bears and mountain lions) that have caused property damage. For both species in Shasta County, permit numbers fluctuate considerably from year to year. Nonetheless, the overall trend for permits issued for both species has been stable to declining since the mid 1990s.

Q: I’ve only mentioned bears and mountain lions. Are there other animals that are making their way to populated areas?

Coyotes and deer are other large animals that are common in populated areas, especially those neighborhoods with canyons and drainages running through or adjacent to them. Raccoons, skunks, and opossums are widespread and common mid-sized animals in populated areas.

Q: I’ve heard all kinds of uneducated guesses about why we’re seeing more wild animals within city limits. What’s your professional explanation?

We know that bears are locally very common, and we also know that mountain lions are not uncommon. Nonetheless, we do not have any data suggesting a significant increase in the populations of either this year (compared to last year or the previous few years). And aside from the bear reports this year that I mentioned earlier, we do not have much evidence that suggests there are more large wild animals within city limits this year. For bears, time will tell if this represents the beginning of a trend.

Q: What can the public do to make their properties less inviting to wild animals?

Excellent information for making your property less inviting to a variety of species can be found on the Department’s Keep Me Wild website.

Q: And in the event a citizen does encounter a wild animal … any tips?

Great tips for encounters with specific animals can also be found at the Keep Me Wild website.

Q: Pete, thanks. again, for giving us so much time in answering my questions. Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

You can pretty much count on seeing the sign of wild animals (tracks, scat, etc.) on just about any trail that you walk on in and around Redding. My son and I saw a buck deer and several coyote scats on the Blue Gravel Mine Trail (along Buenaventura Boulevard) on Saturday morning.

Most of us really enjoy living in an area surrounded by and including excellent wildlife habitat. But part of what might be considered the “cost” of living here is that many of us will sometimes have unplanned encounters with large animals – in an area frequented by deer we shouldn’t be too surprised if at some point we observe a mountain lion, bear, or coyote. By brushing up on local animals and being prepared for these situations, we can minimize the chances for wildlife problems near our homes and maximize the chances that our wildlife encounters will be enjoyable and memorable.

I’ve learned so much from you today, Pete. Feel free to stop by any time to enlighten us about other wildlife issues.

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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8 Responses

  1. AJacoby AJacoby says:

    A MOST EXCELLENT INTERVIEW!! Especially pertinent to those of us who live adjacent to greenbelts or canyons. I love living in an area that supports wildlife . . I will skip the obvious joke here. Looking off my back deck to see a flock of turkeys or deer is pretty wonderful . . . well, until I look at what the deer have done to my roses. How they can nibble the tender shoots and leave without greeting stuck on the thorns is a puzzlement!!!

  2. Avatar Dick says:

    Great information, thanks for publishing this 🙂

  3. Avatar Lovesto Eat says:

    I found this interview very informative and thank you for providing the public with assurances that the latest black bear was unharmed in his relocation experience.

  4. Avatar Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    Thank you Doni for this great interview with Pete Figura. You covered a lot of subjects and Pete’s website referrals have a lot of important information. I’m always thrilled to see a bear, coyote, bobcat or a fisher (I’ve seen three in the last 20 years!) when I’m out doors. I’m glad you got the scoop on how the bare fared after falling out of the tree. I’m relieved.

  5. Avatar Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    bear! lol

  6. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    Thank you Doni for laying out the bear facts and your encounter with Yogi the friendly bear. Very interesting story indeed.

  7. Avatar Ron says:

    What I want to know is what do they do with the road kill?

  8. Avatar Hal Johnson says:

    An interesting and informative interview. Thanks.