LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KRON) — Wildlife experts alerted Lake Tahoe residents and visitors to expect more bears lumbering around areas populated by people this spring.

Hibernating bears will soon wakeup and emerge from cozy winter dens.

Some of these bears enjoyed a people-free time last fall while Lake Tahoe residents were under mandatory evacuation orders from the Caldor Fire.

The Caldor Fire’s evacuation period will have “rippling and lasting effects” on bear behavior for seasons to come, wildlife officials said.

Everyone in Lake Tahoe should expect “increased bear activity,” according to officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildfire, Lake Tahoe Interagency Bear Team, and State Parks.

During the 2021 Caldor Fire, some bears were forced to flee from the forest to escape flames.

“(Some bears) may have traveled to the Tahoe Basin for refuge, while many sheltered in large pockets of unburned forest or were temporarily displaced,” the CDFW wrote.

“When streets and homes were empty and no one was around to secure houses, vehicles, dumpsters, or other attractants, habituated bears in the Tahoe Basin – meaning those bears already comfortable around people – were left to roam neighborhoods freely with little resistance,” the CDFW wrote.

“These habituated bears suddenly had no humans yelling, making noise, chasing or hazing them,” the CDFW wrote.

Bears learned that food was easy to find inside Lake Tahoe houses.

This winter, some bears never hibernated and survived by breaking into people’s homes for food.

Hank the Tank
A 500-pound bear, named Hank the Tank, is beloved by many locals who believe in co-existing with bears.

In the Tahoe Keys community, bears broke into dozens of homes through garage doors, windows, and fences, causing some homeowners thousands of dollars in property damage.

One 500-pound bear, named “Hank the Tank” by the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, became famous for his bold break-ins, enormous size, and friendly demeanor.

Because bears are so intelligent, once they learn something, it’s difficult to break their bad habits, wildlife officials said.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted a Trap / Tag / Haze operation last winter in South Lake Tahoe to identify and track bears. Bears were marked and moved to nearby, unburned habitats in an attempt to interrupt the cycle of break-ins and food rewards.

Some of the bears were hazed upon release with airhorns, paintball guns, and non-lethal rounds, to give the bears a negative human interaction that will hopefully prevent them from returning to the area.

“It’s extremely important to be proactive in preventing bad habits from forming in the first place,” the CDFW wrote.

“While what happened during the Caldor Fire evacuation couldn’t be prevented, homeowners and visitors can do their part to prevent or deter this kind of bear behavior in the future, especially as this mild winter turns to spring and bears begin to emerge from their dens in search of food,” the CDFW wrote.

Below are steps residents and visitors can take to help bears live a wild and healthy life co-existing with people:

  • Businesses should require employees to keep dumpsters locked at all times!
  • Use bear-resistant trash containers!
  • Do not allow unsecured attractants such as bird feeders!
  • Remember that feeding bears (or any wild animal) is against the law!