Tahoe Black Bear Damage, Repairs and Deterrents


orphaned tahoe Black Bear Cubs

Orphaned bear cubs. Photo courtesy of Tahoe BEAR League

For Electric Fencing See our new website Tahoe Bear Fence

Black Bears are a beautiful natural feature of Lake Tahoe and need to be respected and kept wild.

If you have a bear emergency please call the BEAR League at 525-7297 (paws). For construction emergencies; DS Construction at 448-9127

Why do bears break into houses?
Black bears do not need us to feed them to survive. They do just fine living wild.
However careless and extremely ignorant visitors and even locals have changed the nature of many Tahoe Black Bears to where they no longer live off the land completely.  By leaving pet food out, garbage out and actually feeding the bears they have come to associate people and the boxes which they live in as places where they are suppose to get food. Another food attractant that often goes unnoticed are bird-feeders.  I am against bird-feeders altogether as they are unnatural and disrupt the natural dynamics of a birds life. However as far as bears are concerned having bird-feeders out is not a good idea.  If you must feed the birds then do it from mid December to mid March when the bears are hibernating. In Aspen Colorado they have an ordinance of no bird-feeders for this very reason.  Bears do not hibernate because it is cold out, they hibernate because their natural food source is diminished.  By leaving bird-feeders and other food out the bears natural hibernation cycle is broken.  Experience has taught the bears that they can find food where humans live and without resistance from humans they will continue to do what seems natural….to eat.

What needs to be done?

Large mama bear in Alpine Meadows Lake Tahoe

Photo courtesy of: www.facebook.com/SaveTahoeBears

Bears have to associate homes and people as undesirable; they need to know that it is easier to live as intended and get their food in the wild.  By encouraging and luring bears to our yards we are basically killing them. If a bear is not trained to know it is wrong they keep doing it and sooner or later they become known as a problem bears.  Once a bear breaks into the home of someone that sees them as nothing but a nuisance they can report it to the police or DFG (Department of Fish and Game) and if the bear broke a door or window to gain entrance then that is grounds for terminating the bear.  So if you feed a bear you might as well take a gun and shoot it after you feed it.  And if it is a mother bear then her cubs stand little chance of survival in the wild without her so now they will cease to exist as well. It is pretty simple; DO NOT FEED THE BEARS!

There needs to be a lot of education about how we can successfully live with the bears and this is where groups like the Tahoe BEAR League & Facebook- “SaveTahoeBears” play a major/vital role in educating the populace on how to handle Black Bear encounters and how to deter them from becoming “problematic”.  Hopefully we can get the entire population to learn how to dissuade bears from seeking food from us and go back to nature.  However that is a long tough journey. We need to not only work on preventing them from getting fed by us but we need to protect our homes from the damage that is caused when they try or succeed in gaining entry.

bear damage in tahoe kitchen

Kitchen damage from Black Bears in Lake Tahoe. DS Construction

How Bears get into houses and common bear Damage
Bears are incredibly large and strong animals and just the weight of them leaning on a poorly installed or older door can break the door open.  Bears also have learned that leaning on windows pays off often, especially on weaker single paned windows.  The lower the window the easier it is for a bear to leverage his weight on it and break it.  If you have a patio table outside a window the bears will use that to stand on and increase their leverage. (if it does not break first)

Things you can do to reinforce and protect your home from bears:
I suppose the first thing is to not attract them in the first place by not leaving any garbage or food of any kind outside.  And a great opportunity to prevent any break-ins is to show them who is boss when possible.  I had a young well known bear try to get into my place twice last summer and I went ballistic on him yelling and screaming and throwing stuff at him; now he thinks twice about coming up my stairs and unfortunately has since broken into 2 of the houses on either side of me.

There are a lot of options and techniques used to keep bears from gaining entrance to houses.  However, even if your home is well sealed and has never had any food or garbage outside; the bears have learned and been trained by their parents that the big boxes we call our homes are a place where they can get a free meal.

The front door is the most common point of entry in bear break-ins.  It is important that the door is properly fastened at the hinges and that the latch/lock side of the door is properly secured and maintained.  Loose and striped out screws need to be attended to. I have been installing reinforced catch plates (see “Bears and Frozen Pipes Keeping Tahoe Construction Alive”) that use 4 screws instead of the typical 2.  I also make sure to use the longest screws possible so that they secure the catch plate deep into the framing within the walls. Another important thing is to not have play in the door when in the closed position; you can do this by properly locating the catch plate on the door jamb. A bear can use a “loosely locked” door to their advantage by rocking the door till the bolt blows out the jamb.  If the door is not wiggling in the catch plates then it is harder for it to break (but not by much).

Of course the simplest and first thing to do is to be sure that all the locks on all your doors are used. This means you always use both the bolt lock and the door handle lock.  When it comes to windows you have to be sure that your window latches and fastening devices are fully engaged.  On the outside of your house do not leave anything near the windows or doors that the bears can use to stand on and gain leverage to break a window more easily.  Even a piece of plywood leaning up against your house can be used to the bears advantage (your disadvantage)

Bear proofing inside the House

Tahoe Black Bear in tree

Photo courtesy of BEAR League

On the inside of the house I like to close all the interior doors possible so that if the bear gets in one door maybe the next one will actually stop him from doing more extensive damage.  I have seen more than a few refrigerators lying on the floor or at the very least left with their doors wide open.  If you have an ice maker or water dispenser then it is a good possibility that you could have literally running water in your kitchen until you arrive back in town.

It is also a good idea to close your blinds and drapes or make some temporary coverings for your windows so that you take out the visual element from the equation.

Another simple and relatively inexpensive thing to do inside the house is to use dog barking machines. These are activated when a bear walks by a window or door.  The barking machine puts out an annoying barking sound. This seems to be really effective with some bears and ineffective with others.  But for under a hundred bucks it is cheap insurance. Of course having a real dog is a even better!

Click to see at Amazon.com

Dog Barking machine; Inexpensive insurance to Deter Bears (click for Amazon)

Even with all these precautions and even with newer windows and doors, you are not guaranteed a large Black Bear wont muscle his/her way in.  Therefore there are other “bear-proofing” techniques which can be utilized.

Bear Proofing Outside the house:

-Bed of nails
Please read carefully. The use of a “bed-of-nails” as a bear deterrent has some very strict guidelines to be effective and to have the benefits outweigh the very negative drawbacks that can occur if done improperly. If done improperly you may face some serious legal repercussions if a fireman, police-officer or neighbor accidentally steps on it.  If you have any questions on the proper way to employ this technique I highly encourage you to consult with the BEAR League or DS Construction. Guidelines to properly making and using a “bed-of-nails”: 1) Bigger is not better.  You want the nails to stick out of the board no more than 3/4″ any longer is not only ineffective but dangerous to humans 2) maximum spacing between nails should be 2 inches at very most. 3) use 3/4″ plywood for stability and durability. 4) galvanized roofing nails are preferred for weathering and the large head makes for a stable protrusion 5) the board should extend 4 feet from the access point and should extend 1 foot on either side of that access point. so a 3 foot wide door will require a piece of 3/4″x 4′ x 5′ plywood. 6) secure the plywood so that it cannot be swatted away or moved to an ineffective area. 7) Always use caution tape around the bed-of-nails area.

front door electric fencing in tahoe

Photo Courtesy of Doug M.

-Electric fencing (see more photo’s of electric bear fencing here)
An even more effective  technique that is gaining popularity is the use of electric fencing technology such as used in the livestock industry.  These systems use a controller which needs a standard 110v power outlet. The controller powers a hot wire of 9800 volts at a very low amperage which will “demand respect” but is not lethal to the bear or to humans.  An electric fence system can provide a feeling of assurance when away from your home for extended periods of time. This is not a DIY project. If you want it to be effective and safe please hire a professional to do the installation.

Coming face to face with a bear
Black Bears can be very dangerous due to their massive size, strength and dangerous claws. However Black Bear attacks on humans is extremely rare and only occurs in certain situations. If you are confronted by a black bear in the wild you want to calmly walk back and give it space.  If a bear is approaching your home you want to make him feel unwelcome by yelling and throwing your arms around  and if possible throw rocks or whatever you can at him.  The last thing you want to do is corner a bear. I have never heard of a case of a Black Bear charging someone for yelling or throwing rocks at them.  A grizzly, Brown or Polar Bear YES, a Black Bear, NO.

You can also keep an air horn handy inside your house in the event a bear walks in while you are home, or into your yard. Pepper-spray is also very effective but if not used right can backfire and you will be literally crying (maybe that will scare the bear away?…hmm)  Paintball guns can also be really good deterrents and do not hurt them and is a good second tool to use after some yelling and rock throwing.

If you see a bear in a garbage can or dumpster do not go for your camera!  Throw rocks at that bear and scream and yell at him, then go and fasten the garbage enclosure or dumpster. Allowing a bears access to garbage is illegal, you can report it to Environmental Health 581-6240

Please respect these great animals and educate yourself and encourage others to do the right thing so that the Black Bear will always be a part of Lake Tahoe.  A good way to start is by becoming a fan of the Tahoe BEAR  league on Facebook www.facebook.com/SaveTahoeBears where you can find tons of information about how to properly deal with bear encounters as well as daily updates of bear sitings in and around the Lake Tahoe area. Donations and volunteers are always in demand so don’t be shy! , and be sure to tell your “friends”

If you have a bear emergency please call the BEAR League at 525-7297 (paws). For construction emergencies call DS Construction at 448-9127

Written by:Dan Sheehan , 6/16/2011.
Dan is a Lake Tahoe Contractor and wildlife enthusiast.  His company DS Construction is kept busy repairing homes damaged by Black Bears, educating visitors and locals about black bears and installing bear deterrents.  Dan is also a volunteer for the Tahoe BEAR League. You can read more from Dan in his construction blog or follow DS Construction on Facebook.

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