California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife did early development of their successful bear cub reintroduction program here at Sagehen. Now it happens in lots of places around the Sierras.
Cubs found in the summer and fall without a mother are evaluated. If they are still wild and not habituated to people, they are sent to a facility in South Lake to fatten them up until they are big enough to release, which usually happens around late January or early February. The facility then stops feeding the cubs, and that combined with cold temperatures puts them into hibernation.
CDF&W then tranquilizes the bear–or two, sometimes–puts a radio tag on them, and brings them out to Sagehen where we carry them up the road with the snowcat, then drag them out into the woods on a sled. We transfer them into a snow-covered Dogloo with some of their own bedding pine boughs so it smells familiar, and bury the entrance with snow.
When the cubs wake up, they will either go find another den, or just go back to sleep. We put up cameras, so we can see what happens later. Thanks to the radio tags, we can monitor their movements for a year.
Sagehen is a great place to do this work, because the cubs can disperse into wild areas in a lot of directions: Independence Lake, Jackson Meadows, Carpenter Valley; or over the crest into the wild Feather and Yuba River drainages.
The cubs tend to hang around the Sagehen meadows until the snow melt is advanced enough to get something to eat away from the stream. The most surprising dispersal was one year when one of the cubs moved 700-yards out toward our front gate, and her companion followed the Truckee River drainage for 70-miles: all the way to Pyramid Lake!
The only problem bear we had from the program was one cub who tore the siding off the manager’s residence to get at a cache of seeds that a squirrel left there. But that’s what bears are supposed to do: tear up wood looking for food, so it was hard to be mad at the little guy. He left as soon as the snow melted out enough.
Major partners: California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, KGO-TV.