Truckee residents warned after holiday week bear break-ins

07/04/2013 12:00 AM

07/03/2013 10:49 PM

The Truckee Police Department is advising residents and visitors to keep their doors and windows closed and locked following an increase in bear break-ins in the past week.

Three incidents were reported in Truckee's Tahoe Donner subdivision Sunday and Monday, another in the Glenshire neighborhood Sunday, and "it's likely they're in most neighborhoods," said Police Capt. Harwood Mitchell.

"I know it's hot, but people need to be mindful of keeping doors, windows and sliders closed and locked, especially on the ground floor and on their cars," Mitchell said.

It's also important to keep barbecues clean, pet food in sealed containers, bird food off the deck and no food or other smelly items – such as car deodorizers – in vehicles, said Dave Baker of the Truckee Bear League.

"We had a lot of visitors here for the weekend and we'll have a lot more for the Fourth," Mitchell said. "They, as well as residents, need to remember to secure their houses, cars and trash."

The three break-ins in Tahoe Donner are thought to have been by the same bear, captured on film by a homeowner before officers fired non-lethal bear rounds to chase it back into the woods.

In the Glenshire incident, on the other side of town, another bear damaged a screen but left without entering the home.

The Tahoe Donner bear was more brazen, entering two garages and a home through open doors and windows.

In the first incident, on Sunday, said homeowner Don Vivatson, "My wife and I had put our 15-month-old son in a stroller and were going out for a walk. We opened the front door and there was the bear – right on the front porch."

The juvenile black bear didn't seem interested in them, but was just looking for food, Vivatson said. He got his camera and took a photo as it ambled into his open garage.

"It strolled all around the garage and the kayak and, when it found nothing to eat, it went into a neighbor's garage," said Vivatson, 55, adding that it's the first bear they've seen since purchasing their second home in 2005.

In the next garage, on an adjacent street, the bear found a bag of dog food, which it dragged outside to eat.

At that point, police officers arrived and chased it back into the forest by firing bear rounds, non-lethal rubber balls.

But it didn't stay there.

On Monday, officers received a call that the bear had entered an occupied home on another nearby street.

"Our little bear friend went through a bathroom window due to freshly baked cinnamon rolls," Mitchell said. "Apparently it had its meal, then toddled off, because it was outside when our officers arrived."

Again, they chased it into the woods by firing bear rounds, Mitchell said, adding that they then notified the Truckee Bear League and state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"Bears have an incredible sense of smell," said Baker of the Bear League. "Most adult bears know how to open doors, and they'll rip off a car's window seal and go in if you leave anything scented in it."

With temperatures hotter than usual in Truckee – in the low 90s this week and many homes without air conditioning, he said, "people have their houses open to get that nice mountain breeze; they have fruit bowls on the counter and they're outside barbecuing."

Following the dry winter, berries and grubs are in short supply in the backcountry "and the bears are down here," Baker said.

"Moms had their cubs two or three months ago and they're out looking for food for them and teaching them where the bird feeders and pet dishes are," he said.

"If a bear's acting like a bear, it will only be around at night," in which case bringing bird feeders in at night and cleaning up any seed that spilled on the ground might be enough, he said.

But when food is made accessible to them, "they become 'problem bears' and then the police and Fish and Game get involved," which can lead to their demise.

LEARN MORE: For information on avoiding bear break-ins, go to: www.townoftruckee.com/index.aspx?page=1277 or www.savebears.org/info/keepbears_out_housecar.pdf.

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