A 300-pound black bear startled some Saticoy residents and led Ventura police and county animal control workers on a chase before finally being cornered and tranquilized early Friday.
The bear was first sighted at Saticoy Elementary School shortly after midnight, but it eluded Ventura police officers who were sent to take it back to the mountains.
Frightened Saticoy residents in the 10400 block of Darling Road called in 30 minutes later to report a bear in their yard. With police in pursuit, the bear jumped fences and ran through yards, eventually climbing up a pine tree in front of the Villa Scandia Apartments.
A California Department of Fish and Game officer used a tranquilizer gun to sedate the bear, causing it to fall from the tree. It was then lifted onto an animal control truck and whisked away to be examined by a veterinarian and later returned to the wild.
No one was injured, and no property was damaged during the pursuit, said Lt. Brock Avery, a police spokesman.
Authorities say a combination of drought conditions, urban encroachment and the recent 20,000-acre Wolf fire north of Ojai have prompted bears and other animals to venture into residential areas seeking food.
Already this year, there have been eight bear sightings in the county, in part because of a mild and dry winter last year, officials said. The first reports came in March, about four months earlier than usual.
"I think we're in for a long haul," said Kathy Jenks, director of the Ventura County Department of Animal Regulation. "Until we get some good rains, this will not be the last" bear sighting.
Despite their size, black bears are agile creatures that typically favor wilderness in places such as the Los Padres National Forest. They rarely attack humans, but have been known to knock down garbage cans and rip doors off cars and refrigerators while searching for food.
"California has a very healthy bear population, and whenever the habitat can't support the number of bears, they don't just go quietly into the night," said Roland Takayama, who works for the state Department of Fish and Game. "They'll try to find places to eat and water to drink."
Those places are increasingly along the urban-rural perimeter. Bears are often spotted in areas such as Ojai, but their search for food and water is causing them to wander farther into populated areas.
"The drought is affecting everything," Jenks said. "Places where they would normally get water have been dry as a bone since March."
The problem isn't limited to Ventura County. On Tuesday, a mother bear and her cub died in a house fire they started while foraging for food in a home near the San Bernardino National Forest.
And in July, a black bear squared off with police in a Monrovia neighborhood for 14 hours. After using pepper spray, rubber bullets and beanbag shots to try to prod the bear out of a tree, police finally tranquilized it and returned it to the wild.
Bears aren't the only wild animals wandering into residential areas.
Jenks said that coyotes, rattlesnakes and even mountain lions have been known to enter urban areas in pursuit of food or water. Humans often contribute to the problem by being sloppy with their garbage.
"They'll surface in different places if they think there's going to be a meal," said Patrick Musone, a community education officer with the Ventura County Department of Animal Regulation.