California DFG Successfully Returns Yearling Bears Back to Mother Nature

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The Department of Fish and Game (DFG) has completed its 2012 yearling bear release program by returning six orphaned cubs to the wild where they were born. The cubs were found in various locations around the state in the summer months of 2011 and were rehabilitated at a licensed care facility in Lake Tahoe prior to being judged ready to return to the wild.

All six cubs, four males and two females, were in distress and weighed between 15 – 30 pounds when found. Two brother cubs that were found by hikers in the Fresno area had lost their mother to the arrow of a poacher, while another cub was found bawling in a farmer’s pear tree in San Luis Obispo. The others were victims of some other unfortunate circumstance.

“One of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had at DFG is to return a bear back into its environment and live the way natured intended it,” DFG Bear Program Coordinator Marc Kenyon said. “The bear rehabilitation program at Lake Tahoe is completely funded by generous donations and passionate volunteers. Our hope is that we can take learnings from facilities like this and keep bears from becoming public nuisances.”

To be eligible for rehabilitation, a cub must still be dependent upon its mother and not habituated. DFG works with the non-profit Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care (LTWC) organization – the only licensed bear program in California to rehabilitate qualified cubs. At the facility, cubs learn how forage for real bear food such as berries, acorns, fish, grubs and insects. Human contact is kept to a minimum or is non-existent.

When the yearling bears leave, each has tripled its size or more. Most weigh from 45 -80 pounds, depending upon their body type and the condition they arrived in.

“Our hope is that these cubs will wake up to bountiful buffet of spring food and become productive members of California’s thriving bear population,” Kenyon said. “Regardless if it’s six bears or 30,000, every bear in California is important.”

Upon release, each cub is given a final health check up which includes taking hair and blood samples, and is fitted with a radio transmitter to track its movements for the next year. Yearlings are placed in man-made dens with bedding used from the LTWC to give them some familiarity.

In most circumstances, DFG recommends that people leave wildlife alone, including removing attractants from their properties. If this is not an option, DFG should be contacted. For more information, please see www.dfg.ca.gov/keepmewild/.