People have noticed more wild animals like bears and predators like mountain lions in recent weeks in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.

Bear sightings this week include a black bear seen running down Parrotts Ferry Road at Rambling Hills Estates outside Columbia just after 8 a.m. Tuesday, a bear cub that visited a yard near Racetrack Road at East Walnut Street in Sonora about 3:30 p.m. Monday, and a bear that got struck by a vehicle on Highway 108 west of Pinecrest about 7 p.m. Sunday.

Recent mountain lion sightings include a mountain lion jumping across Meadow Brook Drive in East Sonora, heading toward Sullivan Creek or another waterway in the area, about 9:50 p.m. Saturday June 16, and another mountain lion sighting near Dragoon Gulch Trail by a caretaker about 1 a.m. Thursday June 14.

Paula Watson said she was home at her place off Racetrack on Monday afternoon when she heard and saw her neighbor and law enforcement officers outside.

“My neighbor said ‘You have a baby bear cub in your yard’ and I grabbed a blanket because they were trying to catch it,” Watson said Thursday in a phone interview. “My neighbor had on heavy leather gloves and had brought a dog carrier.”

The bear cub climbed a tree and the humans thought they would be able to catch the cub. But the cub was agile, quick and physically fit, and it went over a nearby fence really fast and it was gone.

“We hope baby bear and mama bear got back together again,” Watson said, “quiet as can be.”

Deputies with the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office said there were several sightings of a mama bear and her cub at a mobile home park and at a residential neighborhood in the same area last week. The bears seemed to be searching for food, sifted through garbage, and wandered through a backyard of a home.

300-pound bear

Earlier this month in the Big Hill area out by Columbia a man spotted what he believed was a 300-pound black bear at a garbage can about 5:30 a.m. near Upper Quail Mine Road.

“My brother-in-law saw it and he thought it was a dog at first,” Linda Campbell said Thursday in a phone interview. “It was messing with the garbage at the top of the driveway. He said ‘Get on out of here’ and that’s when he looked and he saw the bear just walk away down the driveway. It turned around and looked while it was walking. But the bear kept going, not aggressive or anything like that.”

Wason said there are a lot of local residents with children in the area and she can hear them playing at times on Quail Mine Road so she was concerned that maybe her neighbors needed a heads up about the 300-pound bear in the neighborhood.

She said her brother-in-law made fish the night before and that fish trash was in the garbage, and that may be what drew the bear to the trash can at the end of the driveway.

Arnold area

Mike Oliveira, the elected supervisor for District 3 that includes Arnold and Calaveras Big Trees and the upper Highway 4 corridor in Calaveras County, said Thursday there have been “numerous sightings of bears” in the Arnold and Dorrington areas.

“Seems there's a lot more this year and I don't know the reason,” Oliveira said. “Our neighborhood watches and online messages are pretty much advising all the residents not to feed them things.”

Sgt. Rachelle Whiting with the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office confirmed three recent bear sightings in the Arnold area and surrounding subdivisions, including a bear that walked into a caller’s carport next to a home on Laurel Circle about 1:35 p.m. Saturday June 9, a bear eating berries off a bush next to house on Pine Drive about 3:55 p.m. Friday June 1, and a bear that got trapped inside a caller’s vehicle on Summit View Road about 5:45 a.m. Sunday May 27.

Oliveira said he’s also heard about sightings of mountain lions in his district but to his knowledge there were no reported problems with the mountain lions.

Whiting advises residents who live near the Stanislaus National Forest to learn about wildlife that live and roam the same areas, never try to pet, feed or catch wild animals, leave newborn and young wild animals alone, don’t leave food in vehicles and use trash cans with lids that can be secured.

Use common sense

Deputies with the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office who responded to the bear cub call this week off Racetrack in Sonora said it’s important for people to be alert and keep an eye out for wildlife right now.

They are reminding people that distance equals safety, and if anyone comes across a bear in their yard, chances are the bear will move on, especially if there is no trash or food for the bear. If there’s adequate distance, it’s OK to make loud noises to urge the bear to move on.

Sonora Police officers who responded to the mountain lion reported near Dragoon Gulch Trail last week are reminding people that mountain lion attacks are rare but possible. When you go in the woods, don’t go alone. Keep children close to you and within sight at all times. If you see a mountain lion stay calm, hold your ground, or back away slowly. Do not run. Do not move closer to a mountain lion, especially one feeding or with kittens.

California Highway Patrol personnel based in Sonora handled the bear call Sunday on Highway west of Pinecrest. Faustino Pulido, a public information officer with CHP Sonora, said Thursday, “We are fortunate to live in an area with so much beautiful scenery and wildlife, however, it can also be distracting and a hazard to the motorist.”

Squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, deer, bears and mountain lions try to cross roads all the time, so drivers have to be especially attentive when more animals are around, Pulido said.

We live where animals live

A local wildlife expert says the recent uptick in animal sightings is normal every spring and summer, when wild animals get more active and people spend more time outdoors.

“Some of this to be expected,” said John Buckley with the nonprofit Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center in Twain Harte. “There’s a lot of habitat and potential for wildlife.”

Buckley says where he lives up Highway 108 in the Twain Harte area near edges of wild forest, he puts out wildlife detection cameras and in 2 to 3 weeks he’s captured images of coyotes, mountain lion, black bears, wild turkeys and deer, as well as squirrels, birds and other species, just passing through or smelling attractant he puts out.

A lot of the photos happen at night when people aren’t around, Buckley said.

“The more people are aware that wildlife is all around us, even in residential areas, the less surprised they'll be when a bobcat, a mountain lion, a bear or some other animal shows up right in their yard,” Buckley said.

Preyed species like deer, squirrels and household pets are already close to homes and neighborhoods, and this brings predators in to close proximity with people.

Predators often come closer than some people may feel comfortable with,” Buckley said. “But it’s a fact of the natural web of life and he food chain.”

There’s always a lot of animal activity after the first surges of spring growth and many wildlife species take advantage of the warmer summer season to move around and explore and search for food, Buckley said.

Areas like Pinecrest and the Arnold area, where fewer people are around in fall and winter, now have a lot more people renting and camping, and they see the wildlife no one was seeing in the colder months.

Warmer weather also means people have more stuff outside and spend more time outside doing things that can attract wild animals, like barbecuing and leaving their grills out, and leaving more food-smelling garbage out without bungee cords to keep the lids on tight.

“All these things combine to result in a lot of wildlife sightings in the summer season,” Buckley said. “Especially when there are surges of people into areas where there were few or fewer people just a short time ago due to access.”

Attacks

There were 14 verified mountain lion attacks on 15 human victims in California between 1986 and 2014. Five victims of those attacks were 5 to 10 years old, eight were in their 20s through 50s, and two were in their 60s or 70s.

Three mountain lion attacks in California since 1986 have been fatal.

A 40-year-old woman was killed by a mountain lion at Auburn State Recreation Area in El Dorado County in April 1994.

A 56-year-old woman was killed by a mountain lion at Cuyamaca State Park in San Diego County in December 1994.

A 35-year-old man was killed by a mountain lion at Whiting Ranch Regional Park in Orange County in January 2004.

Between 1890 and 2011 across all of North America, at least 20 people were killed by mountain lions, and that number includes seven fatal attacks in California. There was also a fatal mountain lion attack on a 32-year-old mountain biker in North Bend, Washington, on May 19 this year. Another male biker was injured.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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