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1861 - Andres Pico and partners granted state franchise to build toll road and cut 50-foot-deep cleft through (Newhall) Pass; they failed; Beale later succeeded [story]
Andres Pico


Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Jul 24, 2014

evelynevandersande_mugWe tend to forget that 30 minutes from the Valencia mall, we have areas of wilderness where it’s possible to encounter a bear.

Towsley Canyon borders East Canyon, and the two add up to a large piece of safe territory for a bear to survive. While a bear is mostly content eating berries, roots, foliage, acorns, ants, eggs from nests and carrion, we also know they can catch young deer fawn. There are many of those in East and Towsley right now. A bear was killed a few years ago trying to cross Interstate 5 in the same area, so we know they are there, but they do not look for human confrontation and are seldom seen.

They are known as California black bears, and their color varies from tan to brown to black, with an occasional white chest patch.

My husband spent his childhood in Amsterdam and I spent mine in Paris. After one year living in New York City, we were giddy to explore the entire wild, open wilderness the U.S. had to offer us, and we went on vacation to one of the most remote areas in Maine. After days of driving on dirt roads and seeing so many moose that we stopped counting them, we arrived at an almost empty campground.

Some signs in the camp showed precautions to take against the bears, and with the presumption of youth and a total lack of experience, I asked the ranger who was picking up the garbage bags if the signs were really there to impress the tourists.

This picture was taken on the trail in Towsley Canyon by two hikers.

This picture was taken on the trail in Towsley Canyon by two hikers.

“Jump in the truck. We are going to the dump,” he said. We quickly jumped in the back of the truck between the garbage bags for a short ride to the dump. A few minutes before we arrived, the ranger cut off his head lights and drove slowly. A mother and two cubs were busy searching though the garbage. When the ranger put his lights on again, we saw with total amazement how fast they could climb a tree.

This encounter was a total revelation, and the beginning of a long love story for me.

A few years later, we were on a trail on Vancouver Island that ended up in a little cove. We were looking at the rocks when we suddenly noticed a bear, taking the same trail, arriving on the cove. We were trapped. After hiding behind some rocks, we slowly crossed the water to escape to the next cove.

Black bears rarely attack humans, but we were keenly aware that the bear knew we were there. A black bear has better eyesight and better hearing than a human, and their best sense is their sense of smell, seven times greater than a dog. They are highly dexterous, able to open screw-top jars and door latches, and they can learn to recognize shapes such a triangles, circles and squares.

Lost in my deep attraction for bears, I went to see the polar bear migration in Churchill, Manitoba. But I found that polar bears are altogether different creatures, even if they are still called bears. They are killers: large, powerful and extremely intimidating.

I also saw many bears in Alaska and got quite close to black bears and grizzly bears. In Denali Park, I found myself close to bears in a few circumstances, but it was in September – and at that time of the year, the bears are eating machines, getting reading for hibernation and reaping both foliage and berries from the blueberry bushes with total concentration. Many times on the trail, I saw proof of their passage just before we came: bear scat still warm in the cool air of the morning, full of blueberries as evidence of their last meal.

To mark their territory, they rub their body against trees, leaving handful of hair behind. Or they claw the bark, and you can sometimes even smell their musky scent hanging in the air.

BlackBear_CFGI took a small water plane to visit a good salmon fishing spot frequented by bears. It was away from all civilization, with no roads and hardly any hard ground. It was a mixture of marshland and mud, one of those places far off the beaten track that you still find in Canada, where nature has been undisturbed. The bears were swimming around us, not disturbed in the least by the few humans because they were concentrating on the task at hand, which was catching as much salmon as possible.

We could see what strong swimmers they are and how clever and quick they are at fishing. We witnessed a mother teaching her cubs to fish: Each time she caught a fish, she would eat her part first, then give the rest to the cubs. One tried to steal her fish and was quickly reprimanded with a smack on the head. The mother had to stay strong and healthy to feed both of her cubs and teach them to survive. The mother growled and grunted to tell them to pay attention.

Cubs stay with the sow up to two years before they are able to go off on their own. Bears mate in June and July, but they have a great adaption system if food is not plentiful – like this year, due to our 5-year-long drought. It is called “delayed implantation.” The female can carry the fertilized egg for awhile, until she feels is safe to reproduce, and only then does the egg start to grow into a fetus. If she is not fat enough by the time she starts to hibernate, the egg will spontaneously abort.

In California, the females reproduce when they are 4 to 5 years old, and they have two to four cubs per litter. They are born in February when the sow is hibernating, and they stay together nursing in the den until April or May. In the wild, the life span of a bear is about 18 years.

Bears hibernate; female bears definitively have to hibernate if they have cubs. In the Sierras, at higher elevations, both males and females will hibernate. Food is not available in the middle of the winter, so there is no other option available. I am not sure about Towsley Canyon, since food is available year-round. In doing my research, I read that “if the winter is mild enough, males may wake up and forage for food.” Until some research is done on the local population, I will refrain from any conclusion.

 

blackbear2What to Do

The peaceful encounter with a bear in Towsley Canyon was not on the little loop trail used by many hikers, but way up on the ridge. I do not think you are in any danger if you go hiking there, but I feel it’s useful to repeat some precautions.

Basically, the behavior you would use if you encounter a bear is the same as for a mountain lion. If the black bear approaches, try to show that you could be dangerous. Make yourself big, raise your arms and open your jacket. Yell at the bear; make noise with whatever you have at hand, perhaps pots and pans from your campsite. Although it is unlikely, if the bear attacks, you should fight back using branches, rocks or camping equipment.

If you are visiting bear habitat and you are hiking, make noise to give a bear a chance to go away. Most black bears try to avoid confrontation, so give both of you a chance to avoid it. Never keep food in your tent, and use a bear-proof garbage can.

Do not run from a bear; it triggers a reaction where you become the prey. Face the bear. If you have small children, pick them up. If you can, put them on your shoulders.

We do not see them often, but they are here and doing fine. Surveys conducted in 35 states show they are in every one of those states and are even increasing in population except in Idaho and New Mexico, where black bears were not found. They tend to remain in sparsely settled and forested areas. Their range is continuous in the northeast from the Appalachian Mountains all the way to Virginia. We know they are in all the mountainous areas of the Sierras. They have even been spotted in Ohio.

I can tell you that coming from western Europe where it is totally impossible to see a bear, driving to Sequoia Park for the weekend and being able to see one from the safety of our car is a wonder you cannot comprehend if you have had that opportunity all your life. We really are surrounded by the miracles of nature, even in Santa Clarita.

 

Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 28 years. She lives in Newhall.

 

blackbear

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111 Comments

  1. Gregory – isn’t this where you hike?

  2. Jerry, Stephanie isn’t this where you guys go?!

  3. Rosario Hayes this is where you run! Yikes!

  4. Emily Barodte I remember your post from the other day !

  5. My homies parents live off tournament n Wiley n neighbors have seen a bob cat roaming around the area too

  6. Mike Rafferty Jawn Moose

  7. Brogan Allardice oh snap!! Isn’t this where u hike sometimes? Scary!

  8. Awesome!! Glad I don’t run with head phones in! Thanks Cathryn Annmarie Walsh!!

  9. Kyle Robinson, Travis Hobbs, Jared Scardina, Jawn Moose…wow

  10. Amanda, someone claimed to have seen this last Sunday too. Crazy!

  11. Jeff Shorey Billy Bond

  12. Alyshia Deanna Garry Marc who wants to go for a hike?

  13. I’m not scared of a bear…. you my Otis? ?????

  14. Andrea Ward Andrea Ward says:

    Jaimie Lyn Mickalson! Be careful!

  15. Nestor Iván Martinez

  16. John C. John C Mawhorter

  17. Tom Dehn Tom Dehn says:

    Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar eats you!

  18. Yarely Donis Yarely Donis says:

    Londy Aguilar Sindy Aguilar Yanira Gutiérrez ya me dio miedo

  19. Why is my reaction… Awww!? Lol and I run this thing solo all the time

  20. Daniel Sotelo Ivan Gonzalez omg

  21. Jerry Beran Jerry Beran says:

    Nice, make sure you feed him, but only red meat….. and baby’s

  22. Hiway Gotti Hiway Gotti says:

    Any poachers on your friends list? They would appreciate this info.
    Especially since they came and killed my bear friend, Jeffrey 2 years ago on the outskirts of Santa Clarita.

  23. Jaimie Lyn Mickalson its because it’s a baby bear

  24. Joey Buslon Joey Buslon says:

    Wow! Dolores Buslon

  25. Brian Ends did you see a bear on your hike?

  26. Dianna Hemmi Dianna Hemmi says:

    Makes me sad when people want to kill a beautiful creature. Especialy when its “peoples fault” when the athorities have to kill them.

  27. Brittany Elward definitely NOT hiking here when you come to visit

  28. Your hiking in there territory. PLEASE BE AWARE. .

  29. Omg Patti Morgan Palominos !! Yes I hike here often. I’m more afraid of snakes than bears though. I would wrestle a bear to the ground lol

  30. Edgar Ruiz Edgar Ruiz says:

    Sandra V Ruizquiez

  31. Brian Ends Brian Ends says:

    Holy crap NO… Thank god! See, and you were worried about snakes Debbie… Pshhhhhh

  32. Veronica Mendoza Pereyra

  33. Laura Langen Laura Langen says:

    My husband was attacked by a bear in the High Sierras about 10 years ago. Still has the scars to prove it.

  34. Debbie Hanna Debbie Hanna says:

    Lindsey Hanna Bob Edwards OH MY!

  35. Jeff Butler, we didn’t have to go all the way to Alaska! Lisa Miller Siemantel, Kim Spargur Siebe, Tricia Fleischaker Fossa be big if you see him!

  36. Megan Happ Megan Happ says:

    Shannon Etheridge and Cheryl Bain

  37. I was on that trail yesterday!!

  38. Ryan Roehn Ryan Roehn says:

    Holly is back there all the time

  39. John Lazar!!!! Tracy Judson!!!!

  40. John Lazar!!!! Tracy Judson!!!!

  41. John Lazar John Lazar says:

    So do they poop in the woods?

  42. John Lazar John Lazar says:

    So do they poop in the woods?

  43. Katie Dunn Katie Dunn says:

    not the first time haha

  44. Katie Dunn Katie Dunn says:

    not the first time haha

  45. Tasha Pereyra I saw the article this morning

  46. Tasha Pereyra I saw the article this morning

  47. That’s a big boy. What a surprise

  48. That’s a big boy. What a surprise

  49. Kara Guillory Stierman, Steffany Hicks Marshall whoa!

  50. Ummmmmm that’s why I haven’t been hiking Jeff Butler Lol..it was really to keep you safe :)

  51. Omg!! Sherry Prevatt Leach and they make fun of me for bringing protection

  52. Kara Guillory Stierman, I do too, it’s called sunblock. ;P

  53. SCV you have bears… PMC does also…

  54. Sarah Jean Sarah Jean says:

    Nathan de los Reyes lets do this…

  55. OMG, used to hike there all the time. Always knew there was a possibility of mountain lion but never thought about a bear!

  56. Judy Belty Judy Belty says:

    Lorraine Coffey Solomon Shannon Dolan Jennerson

  57. They do not want to be near us… Just be aware of your surroundings at all times.

  58. Angela Fatta Angela Fatta says:

    Awww a teddy bear..

  59. Oh, no, that’s where I hike a lot…maybe not, now!

  60. Deborah Bruce-Hull take CoCo with you.

  61. Holy crap Shanele Stoll Kelly Nave. Snakes aren’t the main concern anymore

  62. We ran into fresh mountain lion tracks nearly also those rattlesnakes are everywhere.

  63. Christine Headlee OMG! We missed out

  64. Ohhhh no, shucks!
    See Ike Kendrick, lions AND bears ?!!

  65. And don’t forget about Cougars as well.

  66. Lol. I was going to tag Jeff Solomon and Lorraine Coffey Solomon too!!!

  67. Helen says:

    He was on the big trail on the Wiley side. Walk with friends or make noise if you’re alone.

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