Tahoe redevelopment rattles bears

The commotion of building a major gondola project at Heavenly Ski Resort has forced some black bears into South Lake Tahoe's residential areas, the Tahoe-based BEAR League said.

"The noise is driving the bears crazy," said Ann Bryant, president of the BEAR League. "You can imagine how a dog reacts around firecrackers, well these are bears around dynamite."

Bryant blames the resonating boom of rock blasting and hovering helicopters at the construction site for the increase in bear encounters at South Shore's densely populated Ski Run neighborhood. Already more than 30 calls, up from the summertime average of four, have come in from alarmed residents.

She said the bears aren't dangerous until they learn to live off handouts.

"Sometimes the animal's rights are the very last thing to be considered and we do whatever is needed to keep up the commercialism, but we as humans have the responsibility to do what's right here," Bryant said. "The very worst thing we can do is to feed them our garbage."

Some residents are feeding bears without even knowing it, said Stan Burton of the Clean Tahoe Program, which monitors area compliance with garbage collection codes.

"Bears are like burglars - if they walk down the street and it's easy for them to steal what they want, they'll do it," Burton said. "They go where it's easy, to the people with the plastic garbage bags and to the cans without lids."

Preventing the bears from learning the easy life on their temporary venture into town will be key to keeping the animals wild, and alive. Bears, once in the habit of Dumpster diving, often wind up being euthanized by the California Department of Fish and Game because they are considered to be a threat to public safety.

Bryant said if South Shore residents are careful with their garbage, the bears fleeing from Heavenly's hillside can return to eating their natural meals of manzanita berries once the blasting is done.

Monica Bandows, Heavenly spokeswoman, said there's an end in sight for the heavy work which has been going six days a week, 10 hours a day since May in a rush to get the lift running for the upcoming ski season.

"This (bear problem) is news to us," Bandows said. "But we're almost done with the blasting. The work at the mid station will require an occasional blast and we have maybe one or two more sessions with the helicopter flying in the towers and cross arms."

Heavenly uses the helicopter to transport the hardware to the remote gondola line to minimize erosion on the forested slope. Erosion control is a requirement of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, the two environmental regulatory authorities in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The Clean Tahoe Program has compiled a list of bear-proof containers which range in price from $400 to $1,100, and are available from a variety of sources. To obtain a copy of the list, along with instructions for building a solid garbage receptacle, call (530) 544-4210. Bear problems, including encounters and advice for storing garbage, should be directed at the BEAR League at (530) 525-PAWS.


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