Living in Bear Country

June, 2013 - OAEC residents Gabriel and Bryan came home one evening to find the contents of their outdoor fridge scattered all over their deck. The garden crew discovered the wire framing of our vermicomposting bins peeled back the next morning, and our kitchen staff noticed coffee grounds and chunks of butter littering the ground around the chest freezer on the kitchen deck.

It didn’t take long to figure out that we have a bear on our hands!

Gabriel assessing the damage. By Lindsey ElliottPhotos by Lindsey Elliott and Jim Coleman

A few of us have enjoyed peaceful exchanges with the cinnamon-colored beauty. Our interactions with the bear to this point have been a heady mix of awe, excitement and curiosity. But when we realized our response to its presence had been mostly passive, we knew our behavior had to change.

Photo by Jim Coleman

According to the Press Democrat, a young Black Bear (Ursus americanus), probably searching for a territory of its own post-hibernation, has been making appearances all over West Sonoma County—an unusual occurrence here. As we see it, the human residents of the area have two choices. We can either:

A) consider the bear a “problem” and call CDFW to trap or remove it, or B) embrace this long lost relative of our wider community by intentionally reconsidering our inhabitation practicesTo protect and foster the wilder nature we love so much, the humans of OAEC decided to go with option B.

We encourage our West County neighbors to do the same! Please consider printing out the attached "bear-proofing" flier we made and hanging it around your neighborhood.

Bear outside Katy & Adam's houseWe want the bear to find its place in the wild, not rely on human settlements for food.

To help our ursine friend realize that our homes are not friendly or attractive places to hang around, here are the ways we’re changing our habits:

  • Electrifying the vermicomposting bin. The bear already identified a few “weak spots” on our property. Our “Worm Palace,” filled with yummy food scraps, was one of them. We put an electric fence around it and are now storing buckets of kitchen waste in the dining hall basement.
  • Bear-icading the kitchen. Our kitchen deck chest freezer provided the bear with an odd meal of coffee grounds, butter and a gallon of fish emulsion last week. In response, our facilities maintenance crew installed a locking door on the kitchen entrance to protect our pantry, cool room and kitchen. Now access to the freezer deck is for-humans-only.
  • Lone black bear by Jim ColemanLocking up smelly trash. We’ll store all food-related or strongly scented trash in a lidded, hardware-reinforced box in our garbage and recycling area. Our onsite residents have to adjust their garbage/recycling chore requirements as a result, but they’re willing.
  • Storing goat and chicken feed behind closed doors. All grain feed is now kept in the barn instead of outside of animal pens.
  • Keeping our cars pristine! It’s finally time to fish those wilted French fries and bits of kale chips out from under the backseat. We’ve agreed not to keep ANY food—or anything even remotely odor-iffic such as toothpaste or soap—in our cars when parked onsite.
  • Informing guests. If you’re taking a course or coming to OAEC for an overnight stay, please be aware not to keep anything smelly in your car or the guest yurts.
  • Closing all doors and ground-level windows at night.
  • Cleaning up food messes thoroughly, and keeping food in closed containers in designated storage areas at all times.

Gabi and BryanAlso, instead of gawking admiringly at the bear if we come upon it, we’ve agreed to make noise. Bells, horns, shouting, banging pots and pans…the louder, the better. We want to let the bear know that our residential and work zones are not good places to be.

We appreciate all the great tips from our friends on Facebook and from various websites and articles.

Download the attached "bear-proofing" flier or check out these sources for more information on responsible bear coexistence etiquette:

Thank you for the encouragement to peacefully coexist with our new neighbor. We hope the bear does a better job at resisting the conveniences of civilization than we have!

photo by Jim Coleman


Closing thoughts from the Wild Farm Alliance, co-founded by OAEC Executive Director Dave Henson:

"We envision a world in which community-based, ecologically managed farms and ranches seamlessly integrate into landscapes that accommodate the full range of native species and ecological processes."

bear_flier.pdf166.81 KB