Today was bittersweet, to say the least. Arrived in the park around 5:00 and, after spending some time with the golden eagles, headed up the Fountain Valley trail.
The temp was 90+ and it felt every bit that, if not hotter. At the Lyons Overlook trail there was the biggest pile of black bear scat I’ve ever seen, we’re talking big Grizzly size. I hiked to the top of the overlook, smelled the distinct odor of a bear nearby, and turned to my right just in time to watch the tail end of a big bear making its way into the oak brush. I stuck around for the next 45 minutes, shooting landscapes while I watched the movement of the bushes and listened to the bear root around – never got a clear look at the bear due to the thick brush, and finally gave up due to the unrelenting heat. Back down the trail toward the truck. I arrived at the parking lot and found Rob shooting a doe and her fawn, finally got some halfway decent fawn shots.
We spotted what looked to be either a mountain lion or a small deer on the hogback about 1000 yards away, and though we were both fairly sure that it was “slinking” through the brush and couldn’t be a deer, for some reason we ignored it and moved on. Nothing for the next hour. At 8:00 I decide that my luck might be better out of the truck, so I hit the Willow Creek trail. The hike yielded nothing but a great horned owl that waited until I was very close to it to fly, scared the heck out of me as it dove off of a low branch and sailed right over my head. Met one of my wildlife watching buddies on the way back to the truck, he had just returned from the Fountain Valley trail and, of course, got some shots of the big bear that I’d lost patience waiting for earlier. He informed me of a big problem with two bears in the nearby neighborhood, apparently two youngsters had been breaking into homes for food and were put down earlier in the day. By now the light was fading.
I was about to hop into the truck and leave the park when a couple of guys that I’d shared a bear sighting with last week pulled up and let me know that a lion had just crossed the road right in front of them in the canyon. Rob and I got there just in time to watch the lion climbing the canyon for a couple of minutes – it had crossed the road from south to north, most definitely the lion that we had seen earlier from so far away (Rob had snapped a couple of shots from some distance earlier, after close scrutiny we could see that it was a lion). By then it was too dark for my camera to get anything worthwhile, Rob’s camera handled it much better and he walked away with at least one decent shot – here’s the best one I got.
When I got home the news channels were all covering the bear story. The two yearling bears hadn’t been aggressive with people, they hadn’t bluff charged anyone, they hadn’t attacked a pet or livestock – they certainly hadn’t deserved to be killed. The cubs had broken into a home and were eating out of a residents freezer, when the homeowners arrived they fled – no aggression whatsoever. What happened to the three strikes rule that the DOW usually goes by? A spokesperson for the DOW was interviewed and claimed that the danger was that they would pass these bad habits (which they claimed that the bears had learned from their mother, though there was never a report of a mother bear with cubs breaking into homes in the area) onto their offspring, even though they wouldn’t be able to reproduce until at the earliest next year. These young bears, which had just been weaned from their mother and really knew no better, should’ve been hazed away from the neighborhood or trapped, tagged and relocated, certainly not trapped and killed. Based on the amount of negative comments online, I’d say that the public is as outraged as I am at the way the bears were handled. The DOW will definitely be “under the microscope” now, let’s hope they handle future situations differently.