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A 25-year-old woman received minor injuries to her leg after she startled a bear that had broken into her group’s cooler during a trip to Lake Tahoe over the weekend.

            The woman reported that she was standing by a picnic table, unaware of the bear roughly 15 feet from her, when the bear walked up to her and hit her in the leg. Game wardens handling the call believe that the bear was most likely defending the food it had just discovered in the group’s cooler.

            “We were very fortunate that his only ended in some torn jeans and an injury on the leg,” said Game Warden Captain Jake Kreamer. “Coming between a bear and its food is a dangerous place to be.”

            NDOW staff have noticed a significant increase in these sorts of encounters over the past few years, with the bears around the Tahoe Basin becoming increasingly habituated to people and human food sources.

            “Coexisting with wildlife is fraught with numerous challenges,” said NDOW Director Tony Wasley. “It takes effort on our part to do everything we can to keep these animals wild. That means storing your food properly when you’re camping. It means keeping your trash cans inaccessible to bears and rethinking those bird feeders in your yard. The bears here are becoming increasingly habituated and increasingly emboldened. When we leave food accessible to them, we know why they show up in our campgrounds, on our doorsteps, or in our garages.”

            Wasley believes that some of the biggest contributors to the growing number of bear encounters is that many people are unaware of appropriate behaviors in bear country. Many people do not know that they should report these encounters or to whom, and the unfortunate perception by some in the area that NDOW should only be alerted to bear issues as a last resort.

            “Somehow we’ve been relegated to a solely reactionary role, well-after these habits and patterns of bear behavior are formed” said Wasley. “It’s hard to successfully intervene in a growing problem when you’re the last once invited to the party. Often, we are not involved until a bear has become so habituated that it’s breaking into multiple houses and putting the public in danger. Maybe if we were called sooner, the problem could be corrected before it becomes dangerous. My fear is that if this situation does not change, these types of encounters will only escalate in both frequency and severity.”