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California and the West

Bears With Us: How to Live in the Same Neighborhood

May 28, 1999|JOE MOZINGO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They moved to the tony enclave in the San Gabriel foothills to escape city woes, to live on sprawling estates set in secluded mountain canyons.

But now some residents of Bradbury are fed up with a wilderness that isn't very tame, and they want the state to fix it.

Bears are just about the only things that make news in this town of 938 residents. The beasts amble out of the forest to pick backyard avocados, rummage through trash, even bathe in swimming pools.

While most Bradbury neighborhoods are gated to keep out human intruders, the fences do nothing to stop a surging population of black bears from the nearby Angeles National Forest.

"There's been a number of incident reports that bears are menacing trash cans and children," City Manager Doug Dunlap said. "Parents are worried. It's a public safety issue."

Bradbury officials want to unite with their neighbors in Monrovia, Duarte and Arcadia to push the state Department of Fish and Game to relocate the black bears. There's even talk of suing the agency if it doesn't respond.

But wildlife officials say that relocating the bears is pointless, like removing water on one side of a pond and pouring back at the other end. The bears would merely move back in, said Kent Smirl, a supervisor at the Department of Fish and Game.

"The forest is filled to carrying capacity," he said. "Our approach will be education. Human beings need to learn to live with animals."

The issue is particularly hot this year because of La Nina. The drought has depleted food in the mountains, sending more animals to the suburbs to find meals.

A bear was shot and killed last week in San Bernardino when it emerged from a porch and approached sheriff's deputies. Another had been tranquilized and returned to the forest the previous week after it was found lurking around a college cafeteria in Azusa. In Monrovia, police have responded to at least 17 reported bear sightings since April 11.

In the San Gabriel Mountains, the confrontations between man and beast are also the result of a larger trend: More and more people are moving into the foothills--not ranchers accustomed to bears, rattlesnakes and coyotes, but executives and attorneys in million-dollar homes.

Joseph Santoro, the Monrovia police chief, said he values having wildlife so close. "I think it adds something to the community and L.A. County that is so rare for a suburban setting," he said.

Santoro's officers routinely deal with bears and have devised a plan to help the community coexist with them. They use pepper spray and rubber bullets to drive away the bears, and educate the public not to feed or approach the animals.

One of the city's recent approaches is to set out specially designed trash cans that waft the smell of smoke and bacon to attract bears, but then douse them with a burst of pepper spray when the animals try to reach inside.

Nancy Yen of Bradbury agrees. She has seen mountain lions and bear cubs in front of her home, and considers it their land as much as hers. "It's part of living up here," said Yen. "It's neat to see the wildlife, but you need to be alert and you can't get too close to the cubs."

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