A troublesome trend in Lake Tahoe, where “40 to 50” bears have been hit by cars this summer, with 20 of these collisions happening in just the last month.

This summer’s staggering surge in Lake Tahoe tourism, and a new tendency for bears to wander more aggressively into human areas, is producing a tragic trend. SFGate reports that 20 bears have been hit by cars in the Lake Tahoe region in the last month alone. And a representative from a bear awareness and protection nonprofit says that “40 to 50” bears have been hit by cars this summer, putting the region on pace for the deadliest year ever for bear-car collisions.


“Unfortunately, I think it’s going to be a record year, really,” Ann Bryant, director of that nonprofit Bear League, tells SFGate. “We’ve had many, many this year. A lot are OK — they’re limping but healing. But a lot die.”

The Bear League is the go-to organization for the California Highway Patrol whenever a bear-car collision is reported. They send a volunteer to the site to monitor the bear while Highway Patrol directs traffic, and the bear is often able to shake it off after a few minutes. But sometimes the bear does require treatment (and the Bear League can only provide treatment to bears who are less than a year old). And in some extreme cases, the the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has to euthanize the bear.

“I think it’s tourism, there’s just so much traffic,” according to Bryant. “I mean, it’s definitely a record year for visitors, and they don’t think about watching for wildlife. They just motor along, looking at pinecones and whatever. I’ve never seen it like this. And then there’s so much construction, and that makes people move in a hurry.”

The roads and highways that see the most bear-vehicle collisions tend to be Route 89 and I-80 on the California side, and State Route 28 in Nevada. Wildlife advocates worry that this will year’s total will surpass the 2007 record of 94 bear-vehicle collisions, as the forthcoming months of September and October are when these accidents usually peak.  

“This is bear country; it’s wildlife country,” Bryant tells SFGate. “We have to share the road with animals, and you have to always be thinking that there could be an animal right ahead. If you see one bear, it could be a Mama bear with cubs right behind her.”

Related: Tahoe Bear Hank the Tank's Reign of Terror Ends In Capture — and a New Home [SFist]

Image: BEAR League via Facebook