Some Dude Named Steven Says We Should Feed Lake Tahoe’s ‘Suffering’ Bears. That’s a Terrible Idea

When it comes to wildlife management in the Golden State, misinformation knows no bounds
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A food-conditioned black bear pops its head out of a California dumpster. Photo by CDFW / Flickr

Every now and then, there’s reason to wonder if some Americans inhabit a bizarre world where the sky is green, the grass is blue, and other widely assumed scientific norms are turned on their heads. In this strange parallel universe (known by many as California), mountain lions can be revered as monarchs while other charismatic species are seen as cute and fuzzy victims in need of a helping human hand, whether they’re endangered or not. The result is that science-based wildlife management becomes overly convoluted. Regulated hunting falls under attack. And all too often, the wild critters are the losers in the end.

A case in point was made Friday, when California wildlife officials had to call attention to a bogus flyer that was being distributed around South Lake Tahoe. The flyer, which had been duct-taped to traffic signs along Highway 50, encouraged the public to feed Lake Tahoe’s “suffering bears.” It explained that these bears were being deprived of the food they need by the “selfish, heartless human beings” who follow state laws that prohibit the intentional feeding of wildlife.

“The horrendous ‘Don’t feed the Bears’ campaign was dreamed up by people too lazy to sweep up garbage supposedly created by an animal,” the flyer stated. “If you still cling to this concept, you should be absolutely ashamed of yourself.”

Instead of following the long-held advice shared by every wildlife manager in North America, the flyer contended, area residents should put out dedicated buckets filled with food waste for the bears to enjoy.

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The flyer was photocopied and shared to Facebook by a local resident, who spent two hours removing them from traffic signs around town. (Tahoe Toogee / via Facebook)

“This is false and extremely harmful misinformation that is detrimental to our bears,” officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife wrote in a Jan. 5 press release. The agency also included a few legitimate resources on how to live safely in bear country to set the record straight.

The U.S. Forest Service joined CDFW in debunking the ludicrous flyer, as did a few local bear advocates — some of whom questioned whether the flyer’s creator was joking or just plain clueless. In a Facebook post, the USFS Lake Tahoe Land Basin Management Unit said the flyer included “blatantly false and extremely harmful misinformation” that would only increase the already high number of human-bear conflicts taking place around Lake Tahoe.

These conflicts can all be traced back to food-conditioned black bears. This has become such a problem in recent years that experts say many of Tahoe’s bears are no longer hibernating. Instead, they’re pillaging dumpsters, raiding pantries, and helping themselves to the other human foods that are now available year-round.

“It’s not good. It’s not normal. It’s not natural,” Ann Bryant, the leader of Tahoe’s BEAR League, said in a past interview with SFGATE. Bryant added that during the 20-plus years she’s led the local bear-education campaign, she’s seen these seasonal patterns shift as urban newcomers and second homeowners fail to keep their food waste and other trash out of the bears’ reach.

Read Next: Watch: New Jersey Woman Who’s Been “Accepted” by Black Bears Sweet Talks One Into Closing Her Front Door

The poster child for this problem, a 500-pound sow nicknamed Hank the Tank, was finally “taken care of” last summer after wildlife officials linked the obese bruin to at least 21 home invasions over the course of a year. The final straw? They also had reason to believe that Hank was teaching her cubs how to burglarize homes and find the best snacks. Any other state would have euthanized the nuisance bear long before things got so far out of hand. But in certain California communities, “taking care of” something apparently means shipping it to Colorado.

Naturally, the off-base flyer that was signed “with love and respect, Sincerely Steven” called attention to the exile of Hank the Tank. Which, when viewed through bizarro lenses, is the tragic story of a “beautiful black bear” that had “no choice but to starve to death or attempt a home invasion.”

There is no mention in the flyer of the 156,000-plus acres of public forest land that surrounds Lake Tahoe, and which provides black bears with some of the best, most forage-rich habitat in the state. After all, acknowledging this would mean accepting the fact that the hundreds of bears living around Lake Tahoe do not exist solely for Steven’s — or any other human’s — enjoyment.