How Drought Could be Driving Black Bears to a Town Near You (And 4 Ways to Prevent Bear Encounters)

It’s no secret that California is experiencing one of the worst droughts in the country — this is the Golden State’s fourth record-breaking year. But not many people are talking about how the drought is affecting nonhuman animals. This is the story of Three Rivers, California and the sleepy town’s very hungry black bears.

What’s Happening in Three Rivers, California

As reported in Contra Costa Times, black bears are common in the small town of 2,200. Some residents see the bears making their way through grasslands, climbing up trees, chilling on golf courses, while others have had much more intimate encounters.

This isn’t normal. The bears are from the neighboring Sequoia National Park, but something very strong is motivating them to leave the safety of the park. The state’s record drought has “shriveled the berry crop in the Sierra Nevada and oaks on parched hillsides produced fewer acorns.” And if the bears don’t pack on the pounds and fatten up, they are unlikely to survive the upcoming winter.

While the bears’ presence isn’t normal, it’s dividing the town apart. Some residents love having the bears around and take every opportunity to shoot the perfect picture. Others aren’t too happy, especially when quiet nights are rudely interrupted by the sounds of air horns, banging pots or gunshots meant to shoo the bears away. Some bear-loving residents also fear that those gunshots aren’t just being used to scare the bears, but to actually shoot them dead. Resident Jeff Beck says he heard dog barking followed by gunshots, “People are shooting the bears, there’s no doubt.” But officials like Lt. Doug Barnhart aren’t so certain, since they haven’t seen any evidence of dead bears or names of suspects.

4 Ways to Prevent Human-Bear Encounters

Unfortunately, human and bear encounters can be bad news even when shootings don’t take place. As researchers write in Conservation Letters, “Human-bear conflicts cause annoyance, financial losses, injuries, and even death to people.” These conflicts can endanger struggling bears even more by making them vulnerable to retaliation, reducing our tolerance of them and “diminish[ing] conservation efforts.” Here are a 4 tips from the Humane Society on how to keep black bears away:

1. Stop tempting the bears with trash cans. Remember that these bears are hungry as is, so don’t tempt them with your leftovers. Bring them in, buy a bear-resistant one or get an enclosure.

2. Ditch open compost piles. I know you think that you’re doing right by the environment, but the bears are hungry, so don’t tempt them with open piles. You can still be eco- and bear-friendly by enclosing your pile.

3. Keep your grill clean. You love the smell of barbecue and so do hungry bears. Make sure your grill is free of enticing drippings.

4. Reconsider bird feeders. Bird feeders are too easy to access and too hard for a hungry bear to resist. But if you want to still feed the bird, then keep the feeder away from your property.

Biologist Stephen Herrero summed it up best when he explained: “There’s no question that it’s possible for people and bears to coexist without serious problems if we’re willing to manage our food and garbage.”

But human-bear encounters are bound to happen, so we have to get educated. As the 2015 Get Bear Smart Society guide emphasizes the best way to keep everyone — including bears — safe is to understand their behavior and motivation. Their intelligence parallels our great ape cousins and they are highly social animals. Our goal shouldn’t be to shoot them on sight, but to make them feel very uncomfortable around us by making lots of noise, yelling or staring directly at him or her because “eye-contact is the most powerful tool people have at their disposal — it speaks the language of the bear and communicates our dominance in human territory.”

Bear in mind that this human territory is what we stole from them in the first place and our actions are drying up their food sources. Let’s find better ways of coexisting and learn something from the bears — maybe, just maybe, we’ll stop seeing a nuisance, trophy or a rug, and we’ll see a soul.

Photo Credit: Jitze Couperus


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey3 years ago


Kamia T.
Kamia T3 years ago

Black bears are not usually aggressive, so if you have sprinklers on motion detectors, loud radios that go off as they're passed, that can help a lot - along with hungry deer. And if you've moved INTO bear country, they were there first, so it's YOU who has to accommodate them!

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

We have created a mess for ourselves and the bears. We don't want them near us but we continue to crowd them out. We have caused climate change so there is the drought. We use all the water so they have to come in for food and water. I guarantee you they don't want to see us but it has turned into a necessity for them. We can't set up remote feed drops and waterholes for the safety of the bears. "Hunters" (the brave nerve-bags with guns) would be using them as bait stations and kill the bears. And granted, it might make them dependent. We have a no-win situation here but as the hills die the animals will be forced down.

Sherri S.
Sherri S3 years ago

How about instead of using water on golf courses, wealthy homeowner's yards, etc. we could be watering Sequoia National Park so the bears could have a viable food source. Of maybe there is a way humans could provide food and water (without the bears associating this food with humans)??? I don't know, but I don't want the poor things to starve.

Thomas M.
Thomas M3 years ago

The first human response should not be to kill the bears. Figure out what is best for the lives of these animals.

Ruth C.
Ruth C3 years ago

I totally agree with you Dianne.

Carole R.
Carole R3 years ago

Thanks for the good information and suggestions.

Muriel Servaege
Muriel S3 years ago

Well said, Jessica. But what if we want to feed the bears a little?

Teresa W.
Teresa W3 years ago

well said, Marianne