LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — Wildlife officials are encouraging safety amid a rise in residential bear encounters across the country and following a Southern California teen’s close encounter with a bear in her backyard.
California Fish and Wildlife officials say more than 30 bear sightings have been reported in Los Angeles County alone so far this year. Wildlife experts say bears are roaming into residential neighborhoods for good reason.
In the most recent incident, 17-year-old Hailey Morinico spotted a bear in her backyard and did what she could to save her family dogs.
“I had no time to think, I was literally face to face with a bear, like inches away from her, and in that moment, I thought that I had leverage, so I pushed her,” Morinico explained.
Morinico rounded up the dogs as the bear climbed back onto a yard wall and wandered away with her two cubs, leaving the teenager with a sprained finger and a scraped knee.
“I’m glad that everything turned out fine. I’m alive and they’re alive and we’re all safe,” she said.
Experts say more bears are roaming into residential neighborhoods because food in the wild is scarce.
“Late May and June is a really stressful time for bears. There’s not a lot of natural foods out there, berries won’t come on until July,” said Great Smokey Mountains National Park Wildlife Biologist Bill Stiver.
On their way to residential foraging, more bears have been spotted hanging out in backyard trees. They’ve also been spotted enjoying pool time in Tennessee, swimming in the Ohio River, and stopping by gas stations to forge in garbage cans.
“When they get hooked on human food, it’s hard to get them to go back and forage on a native diet, so they just become a really big nuisance to the society,” said Tennessee Wildlife Resources spokesperson Matt Cameron.
Wildlife experts predict more close encounters are likely, and while Morinico’s physical push worked this week, they say preventing a visit should be the goal. Experts urge people not to leave any food items or garbage cans out.
In case of confrontation, experts recommend having an air horn or bear spray on hand, and be aggressive.
“Make yourself big and make a lot of noise and just yell at them, ‘Get out of here,’ and mean it. Don’t say ‘Shoo bear, shoo bear,’ really mean it,” said Denise Upton with Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care. “You have to teach them their limits of where they can go. It’s your private property; if they get a negative experience from that, then they’ll probably move on.”
Other residential attractions for bears are bird feeders and dishes left out with pet food.