Black Bear Sighting at Point Reyes National Seashore on May 24, 2003
Contact: John Dell'Osso, 415-464-5135
During Memorial Day Weekend, a black bear, Ursus americanus, was reportedly seen at Point Reyes National Seashore in the Limantour Beach area. Late Saturday night, two employees of the Point Reyes Hostel watched the black bear for a few minutes as it searched for food in the Hostel’s compost bin. If confirmed, this will be the first sighting of a black bear in the park in approximately one hundred years. Once common in Marin County, unregulated killing of black bears eliminated them from the area by the late 1800s. One historical source reports a sighting near Mount Tamalpais in 1863 and James Shafter reportedly killed a black bear in Olema Valley (Bear Valley) in 1869. Nearby and to the north, Sonoma County has maintained populations of black bear.
Bears tend to be solitary mammals except during the mating season, June and July. Dr. Natalie Gates, wildlife biologist of the Seashore, stated, “There has been a slight southerly expansion for black bear in the last ten years into their historic range. This individual was likely a young male which are known to wander outside their normal home range and may have already left the park.”
Point Reyes National Seashore scientists and resource managers are evaluating the reported sighting this week to confirm the reappearance of black bear to the park. Special field cameras will be installed on wildlife trails to try and capture the bear on film. In addition, scientists will be reviewing coarse hair left at the site and tooth marks. Park officials will also be consulting with the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) and other national park scientists in Yosemite National Park and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks who deal with black bears on a regular basis.
Park staff has posted advisory notices in areas near the reported black bear sighting and all campgrounds. However, bears are commonly found in mountainous regions of the state around the state such as Yosemite NP, Lassen NP, Whiskeytown NRA, and the Redwood National and State Parks in northern California. With a few precautions, they can coexist with park visitors and adjacent communities. Primarily, black bears become a nuisance when they become dependent on human food sources. The advisory asks park visitors to ensure their food is properly contained and not left unattended and garbage is disposed of properly. Proper management of food storage, food disposal, and garbage maintenance is essential. Over the last decade, there have been fewer than 10 reported bear attacks in all of California—none fatal. The California Department of Fish and Game has information about how to avoid attracting black bears at www.keepmewild.org.
Data provided by the CDFG indicates that black bear populations have increased in recent years and their current range is expanding. The nearest known regular sightings of black bears are in Occidental in Sonoma County, 39 miles away from Point Reyes. Black bears are being seen in areas where they have been absent for over fifty years along the Central Coast and Transverse mountain ranges of Southern California. The populations of black bear are now estimated at between 25,000 and 30,000 in California. In 1982, the statewide population was only estimated between 10,000 and 15,000.
Female black bears weigh between 100-200 pounds whereas adult males are larger at 150-400 pounds, with a shoulder height of 36 inches. Bears are true omnivores and commonly consume ants, grubs and other insects in summer, but prefer nut crops, especially acorns and berries in the fall. They also consume small mammals and ground nesting birds. As omnivores, black bears will eat whatever seems edible. Mostly they are plant eaters, but have been reported catching and consuming young deer fawns. Bears frequently adapt to human presence but avoid humans. Black bears by nature are fearful of humans.
Black bears occupy a variety of habitats, preferring dense forested areas and successional mixed hardwood conifer forests. Many of their important food crops—oaks and manzanita—grow in forest openings. Habitat loss is in the leading threat to wildlife populations in California. Fifty percent of the suitable bear habit in California is in public ownership, of which an estimated 10 percent is managed as wilderness or park.
As part of the National Park System, Point Reyes National Seashore administers approximately 90,000 acres, nearly one third of which is wilderness. The park is nationally known for its wildlife diversity and abundant cultural resources. It is considered one of the top 100 globally important bird areas and has been designated as one of the top 25 most biologically diverse but threatened ecosystems in the world (as part of the California Floristic Province). Because of coastal upwelling of cold water, offshore marine systems are some of the most productive in the world. The mission of the National Park Service is to perpetuate wildlife for the enjoyment of the American people and future generations.
For additional information on bear behavior visit the California Department of Fish and Game website at www.keepmewild.org.