Outdoor caution urged as California wildlife increases

In the same state that has been enduring a seemingly constant existential threat that comes with years and years of drought and fire danger, wildlife officials and scientists now report that this summer and fall should be a time of relief and renewal.

“The storms resulted in an increase in native plant and wildlife species,” Ken Paglia, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told SFGATE.

But at the same time, Paglia warned that what is good for the ecosystem can also pose dangers and threats to those preparing to explore nature again.

“It is a time to be vigilant if you are planning to go out,” he said. “We want to remind people who are going out this weekend and beyond to be a little more vigilant. Make small adjustments in the way you are using and interacting with nature.”

A captive young mountain lion is seen wandering near a body of water in Montana.

A captive young mountain lion is seen wandering near a body of water in Montana.

Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

The positive? You may find thriving plant and animal life that hasn’t been seen here in decades.

Winter storms have brought “more favorable water and vegetation conditions in the spring and summer, increasing food resources and supporting breeding and breeding habitats for animals,” said Erin Chappell, Bay Delta regional manager. from CDFW, to SFGATE this week via email.

Here are a handful of things to keep in mind as you hit the trails and reconnect with nature.

The bears are awake and hungry!

In the Lake Tahoe region, bears faced an extra-long, snowy winter, and according to a statement issued by the CDFW in late March, that population “will be surging soon, and they’ll be hungry!”

This year’s heavy snowfall will also influence bear behavior, even pushing them into places that could result in more interaction with humans: “Bears in the Tahoe Basin will be in a difficult position this year when they emerge from their dens and sean encountered historic snow loads in their habitat,” the CDFW statement said. “Grass and other growth that normally greens up with snow melt will not be available until much later in the spring. Bears will move instinctively to lower elevations to find those fresh vegetables.”

A bear in Lake Tahoe.

A bear in Lake Tahoe.

picsbytammy/Getty Images/iStockphoto

One segment of the bear population that is seen more and more every year, and is the most vulnerable right now, are orphaned cubs and young. They are often slim or small for their age and are not afraid of people, which can pose a risk to both bears and humans.

“These could simply be starving orphans foraging for food, but we are increasingly seeing signs of neurological disease such as a slight head tilt or tremors,” said Dr. Brandon Munk, CDFW lead wildlife veterinarian, in a released statement. earlier this week. “We believe the condition is more significant as a risk of further human-bear conflict than a risk to bear populations or to people.”

Because bears will forage at lower elevations for the remainder of spring and into summer, those living in or visiting Tahoe should be very vigilant for items that could attract bears, including bird feeders, pet food , food stored in refrigerators, garbage, and food or supplies stored in vehicles. And, of course, they must keep the doors and windows closed and locked.

A mother watches her dead cub in Yosemite National Park.

A mother watches her dead cub in Yosemite National Park.

Courtesy of Yosemite National Park

“Bears play an important role in the Lake Tahoe ecosystem and allowing them access to human food and trash is detrimental to the region’s natural processes,” the March statement said. “Bears help spread berry seeds through their droppings, carry pollen, clean up animals that died over the winter, eat insects and provide other essential functions of nature.”

The scientists also say it’s key to remember that human food is not only bad for bears, but the way it’s stored can be devastating: “Bears will unknowingly eat indigestible items of human garbage like paper aluminum, paper products, plastics and metals that can damage their internal systems and even lead to death,” the statement said.

Those who come in contact with a bear can report it using the CDFW Wildlife Incident Reporting System.

New wildlife and continued closures

At lower elevations, plant and animal life have also proliferated, wildlife experts say.

A California coyote on the run.

A California coyote on the run.

ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

“We often say that in the Bay Area there is the privilege of living next to open space in what we call the urban edge,” Paglia said. “There is privilege and responsibility.”

So far this spring, Californians have already experienced incidental contact with rattlesnakes and coyotes and have even seen a rare plant species not seen in decades.

As recovery and rebuilding of trails (and access to them) continue, it’s important to remember that when we go exploring, we’re entering a different world than the one that existed before the storms, CDFW scientists said.

A hiker on the Weir Canyon Trail approaches a colorful hillside of California poppies in the Anaheim Hills on February 8, 2023.

A hiker on the Weir Canyon Trail approaches a colorful hillside of California poppies in the Anaheim Hills on February 8, 2023.

Mark Rightmire/MediaNews Group/Orange County Record via Getty Images

“In particular, wet years help restore unique and critically important vernal pool habitats within the Bay Area and other parts of California. Vernal pools are a type of temporary wetland and support a great diversity of native plants and animals, such as the California tiger salamander,” Chappell said. “Pools are most striking in the spring when many specially adapted flowering plants are in full bloom.

“Many species of vernal pool plants have seeds that can remain dormant for many years, an adaptation that allows them to survive prolonged periods of drought and flourish in wet years like this one.”

Many trails still closed to the public.

While you wait for the wonder of seeing new things for the first time, there are still obstacles to getting there.

Road crews are still working 12 hours a day, seven days a week to reopen a stretch of Highway 1 between Carmel and Cambria affected by major mudslides this winter. According to Caltrans, a seven-mile stretch of Highway 1 south of Esalen Institute should remain closed until mid-July.

The Bixby Creek Bridge spans Bixby Canyon on the Big Sur coast along California Highway 1.

The Bixby Creek Bridge spans Bixby Canyon on the Big Sur coast along California Highway 1.

Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

“In addition, commuters will find a long-term traffic control sign posted 0.8 miles north of the line between San Luis Obispo and Monterey County, where grade stabilization work continues,” Caltrans said in a May 16 statement. .

Farther south in the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara, some popular trails, including Santa Paula Canyon and Punch Bowls, remain closed in the wake of winter storms.

Paglia noted that closures can change daily, and part of planning an outdoor trip includes finding out where you go to see what’s open. And while he said now is an amazing time to get out and explore a replenished California, the first thing to remember is to be vigilant and use caution.

“Be careful,” he concluded. “Be careful where you put your hands and feet.”