Can Bears And Humans Co-Exist?

2012 was not a good year for bears.


First we heard about a beloved black bear that was shot dead at Lake Tahoe. Sunny was a celebrity bear in the area: a friendly neighbor, known and loved by many of the local residents.

From The Los Angeles Times:

“She was the epitome of how bears and humans can coexist,” said Ann Bryant, an animal rights activist here. “Until she was murdered.”

The morning of July 30, Sunny was found dead on the beach, felled by a shotgun blast.

The killing infuriated Lake Tahoe’s large and vocal community of bear lovers, who raised $35,000 for a reward leading to the arrest and conviction of Sunny’s killer.


After the shooting, suspicion immediately turned to the owner of a property near where Sunny bled to death. Game wardens found no physical evidence; the shotgun left no ballistics. The man whom they call “a person of interest” got a lawyer, left town and has refused to be interviewed.

Bears are a fact of life in the Lake Tahoe area, where around 90 bears have been murdered by game officials since 2009, and every year officials receive over a thousand bear complaints of bears breaking into houses and taking food just on the lake’s California side. (The states of Nevada and California share the lake.)


In Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, the situation last summer was similar, with frequent sightings of black bears in the Park, especially around pockets of civilization where food might be available.

My son, who was a ranger there in 2012, came back to his government-supplied wood cabin after work one day to find his bedroom window flung open, bedroom door shattered, and a bear in the kitchen eating ice cream. The very cute bear made a quick escape and immediately treed itself in the backyard. (See photo above.) The same bear had tried to break into the neighbor’s house and had succeeded in getting into a car.

Official policy is to shoot at these bears with rubber bullets and paintballs to scare them away, but when they are repeatedly caught being a nuisance, they are shot. That was the fate of at least three bears in the Rocky Mountain National Park last summer.


A third incident occurred in late August, when a southern California man was killed by a grizzly bear in Alaska’s Denali National Park after he spent eight minutes shooting photos of the animal. This was the first fatal attack by a grizzly bear in the history of the park, which is located 240 miles north of Anchorage and spans more than 6 million acres.

State troopers, park rangers and wildlife biologists, using the photos to identify the “large male bear,” shot and killed the animal as it was still “defending the kill site along the Toklat River as the recovery team attempted to reach White’s remains,” the park service said.

In all three states, bear-human encounters led to the killing of bears.

What’s the solution?

In New Jersey, the government has instituted a six-day bear hunt, aimed at controlling the state’s black bear population, estimated at about 2,900. Last year, 55 black bears were killed on the first day of the hunt.

It’s part of the state’s two-year-old black bear management program, which includes the hunt, trash management and education, in order to reduce the bear population and the number of bear-human interactions.

In New Jersey, as in California, the most common bear problem residents experience is black bears getting into their garbage. Bears are attracted to neighborhoods by garbage odors, so residents are encouraged to work within their community to make sure all garbage is secured and kept away from bears.

As for the situation in Lake Tahoe, from The Los Angeles Times:

“It’s been an enormous evolutionary change,” said (Ann) Bryant, who runs the Bear League, a self-styled detachment of some 250 volunteers who respond to calls round the clock from residents who’ve had a bear encounter. “The bears living here with us are evolving far faster than we are. They’ve learned to take advantage of us. We haven’t learned to coexist with them. And they’re dying for it.”

The reality is that where they exist, bears are an integral part of nature and a vital component of healthy ecosystems. That means that for people who have chosen to live in areas that are bear habitat, the only permanent solution is to foster coexistence between people and bears.

The bears were there first, but they are suffering because of the way humans have encroached on their territory. Can’t we learn to live together?

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Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Will Molland-Simms


Loretta P.
Loretta P4 years ago

Anyone not wanting to co-exist with bears needs to get out of bear territory. Humans are enroaching on their lands and causing these encounters.

Rosemary Lowe

Wild "management' is a fallacy, invented by arrogant humans who think they can "control" the Earth. We are not in control. We are an insane, delusional, self-centered species, which is destroying the planet, the very Life Support System, upon which we humans, and all other life depend.
We need to get our endless human selves out of National Forests, Wilderness areas, and other public lands, which should now be set aside for the non-humans. As Human-caused Climate Change exacerbates our weather patterns, causing more extremes (drought, flooding, winds, ice-shelf melting), flora & fauna are finding it more difficult to survive. Wild animals just can't "pick up" & move somewhere, as most remaining natural niches are already filled. As Mega-forest fires increase (here in New Mexico we are facing another terrible Spring & Summer of forest fires), many non-humans will burn to death, lose their homes, or be injured. Where will the bears go? Where will the mountain lions & bobcats go? Where will the baby owls go, who cannot fly away from exploding forests?
It isn't just about us humans. In fact, who really cares? We do not live In Harmony with Nature.That is why this beautiful planet is dying. Let's try to save as many non-humans & their habitat we can. Don't we owe it to them, after what we have done?

Angela L.
Angela L4 years ago

I'm much delighted to see a bear stealing from me than a human intruder because most of the time we may be shot by them!!! Humans' solution to anything that they consider wrong or in their way is "killing" to control the problem. As I said, human population is over 7 billion, what are we going to do? "kill" like they kill helpless animals? Why can't we human control the birth, to make some space for other species and learn to co-exist, they have the right to be on this planet as well. There are so many orphans in any corner of the world! What's wrong with the picture????
KILLING is never the correct solution and it's a violent act of arrogance and ignorance.

shell bell

So infuriating to see there beautiful bears killed for simply attempting to adapt to it's new environment.

Carrie Anne Brown

sad news but thanks for sharing

Mark Donners
Mark Donner5 years ago

america land of murderers. Those disgusting humans should move out the bear's habitat and kill yourselves if you feel the need to murder them.

Rosemary Lowe

David, great comments!

Yes, some believe "education" is great. But, we are losing the battle for protecting our planet and the other species. Unless we address the CORE problems, such as endless human growth and development, and our human arrogance we will not make it.
I urge those who think it's enought to study "conservation and management" to read: John A. Livingston (the late), who was a long-time Canadian naturalist, author, activist for wildlife, and professor. One of the most profound books is entitled: John A. Livingston, A Reader: The Fallacy of Wildlife Management and One Cosmic Instance: The Arrogance of the Human Species. One can find this on Amazon, I believe.
Until we humans come to grips with our myths, fallacies about ourselves and our society, we will not have peace with ourselves--or other species. Wildlife "management" is delusional. Until we humans change and dispel our arrogant self perceptions, our false ideologies about Nature & the other animals we are doomed. Trouble is, so is all other life, because we are destroying every day.

Kelvin L.
Kelvin L.5 years ago

David, that's a little extreme, and hypocritical. As a student of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences dedicated to carnivore conservation, I've learned that the biggest weapon against atrocities such as this are education and then prevention.

If you spend all day every day teaching others the value of these (and other) beautiful creatures, they will learn to better appreciate their proximity to their home. Preventing the demand for blood, we can show the more fearful alternative methods to preventing bear attacks. This includes a large majority of cleanup and update on their end, and some positive punishment methods from authorities.

For all wild "pests:"
As individuals you can encourage people to put out garbage the morning of rather than the night before, avoid feeding wild animals (including outdoor cats), make sure that your garbage and recycling has locking lids, and pass vital facts and information on the preservation of these and other magnificent creatures around social networking such as facebook.

David V.
David V5 years ago

Maybe we should try hunting humans, especially hunters, in order to control the human population. We are taking over and pushing the animals out of their homes, where do you expect them to go. Humans are the cause of everything wrong with this planet.

Melania Padilla
Melania P5 years ago

Stop human overpopulation! Those habitats are the bears´!