Tips from bear experts for camping in the Lake Tahoe Basin


Contacts: California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Peter Tira 916-215-3858; Nevada Dept. of Wildlife, Ashley Zeme 775-600-5669; USDA Forest Service, Lisa Herron 530-721-3898

Keep Tahoe bears wild!

LAKE TAHOE, Calif./Nev., July 03, 2024 – Headed to the Lake Tahoe Basin for a summer camping trip? Black bear biologists who work in the Tahoe Basin every day have some advice and thoughts to share to help keep Tahoe bears wild. 

The Lake Tahoe Basin is the heart of bear country and bears in the basin are especially active and persistent in their search for food. Sometimes, the easiest food for them to find is human food and garbage.

“Anyone coming to the Tahoe area should educate themselves on bear behavior and general bear ecology. There are a lot of bears here and those bears have an incredibly strong sense of smell and a strong desire for food that intensifies at different times of the year, particularly in the fall with the onset of hyperphagia,” said Alexia Ronning, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and one of CDFW’s human-wildlife conflict specialists assigned full-time to the Tahoe Basin. 

Hyperphagia is the biological instinct for bears to fatten up for the winter, which drives them to consistently feed and search for food. 

“Read and follow all the camp rules about bears when you arrive and take them seriously,” Ronning said. “If you do have an incident – whether it’s a bear getting into your car or getting into food at your campground – report it to your camp host or the proper government agency.” 

Ronning encourages Tahoe Basin campers and visitors to pack a few specialty items to keep them safe while enjoying the outdoors and to help keep the Tahoe Basin’s bears from getting too close and comfortable around people, which is often the source of escalating human-bear conflicts. Conflicts are most likely to occur in settings where human food and garbage are present, such as campgrounds and neighborhoods. 

“Consider carrying bear spray and read the product instructions carefully before going camping. Remember to spray bear spray downwind,” Ronning explained. “Bring an air horn and a whistle or bang pots and pans. Those noises will help scare a bear away to a safer distance and the noise will also warn fellow campers and hikers that a bear is nearby.” 

Bear-proof ice chests are another essential component to any Tahoe Basin stay.

People assume their ice chests are bear-proof, but in most cases they are not. If they can’t be locked or latched securely with no way to pry a gap between the lid and the cooler, the ice chests need to go into a bear box. Campers need to have all the equipment to store food properly whether that’s a bear-proof canister for the backcountry or a bear-resistant ice chest for the campsite. 

Once a bear gets a food reward it is more likely to come back so taking those preventative measures is the best way to keep campers and bears safe.

Toothpaste, deodorant, body spray, lip balm and similar scented items also attract bears and shouldn’t be left in vehicles, tents or loose around a campsite. These items should also go into a bear box or bear-resistant canister.

In the Tahoe Basin, bear encounters aren’t limited to campgrounds or backcountry destinations. Encounters can occur in neighborhoods, business districts and at any time, day or night.

One common problem Tahoe Basin bear experts see is conscientious campers using bear boxes for food storage and bear-proof dumpsters for garbage but not closing them securely. Those must be latched properly to be functional and effective.

Visitors to the Lake Tahoe Basin can play a key role in helping keep bears wild by practicing these strategies and being extra vigilant as bears approach the hyperphagia period.

For more tips and information about bear-safe camping, please see the following video from California State Parks and visit CDFW’s Human-Wildlife Conflicts webpage.

Use the following phone numbers and online resources to report a bear incident or conflict while camping or visiting the Tahoe Basin:

  • In California, contact CDFW at 916-358-2917 or report online using the Wildlife Incident Reporting (WIR) system at apps.wildlife.ca.gov/.
  • Non-emergency bear collisions in California State Parks can be reported to its public dispatch at 916-358-1300.
  • In Nevada, contact the Nevada Department of Wildlife at 775-688-BEAR (2327).
  • If the issue is an emergency, call the local sheriff’s department or 911.

Learn more about keeping Tahoe bears wild at TahoeBears.org and BearWise.org.

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Links:

Safe Camping in Bear Country: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dICg4q3TU8o

Human-Wildlife Conflicts Webpage: https://wildlife.ca.gov/HWC

Wildlife Incident Reporting: https://apps.wildlife.ca.gov/wir

TahoeBears.Org: https://www.tahoebears.org/

BearWise.Org: https://bearwise.org/



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