Lake Tahoe Is Fighting About Whether to Kill Iconic Fat Bear

Officials have received 150 calls about the 500 pound black bear in the last several months.
The bear on a Wanted poster.
Big bear. Screenshot via CBS 13

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has a hit out on a humongous black bear that’s been on a vandalism spree in a wealthy resort neighborhood, but residents who want to protect the bear are fighting back. 

The bear, who residents named Jake or Yogi, reportedly weighs 500 pounds and hangs out in the Tahoe Keys, a 740-acre gated community of million dollar vacation homes. Peter Tira with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife told KCRA 3 in Sacramento that his department, along with local law enforcement, have received more than 150 calls about this big boy in the last several months. 

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“For months—and despite hazing and other mitigation efforts, the target bear has caused extensive property damage and forcefully entered several homes—including occupied homes—in and near the Tahoe Keys," Tira said. “This one individual bear has been linked to property damage at 38 different properties at least. We have DNA samples to make sure only the targeted bear is captured." 

Residents don’t want to see this absolute unit destroyed; they’ve been taking turns standing watch to scare it out of the neighborhood, blasting music to deter it from entering the area, and spray painting “bear killer” on the CDFW’s bear traps, according to the Nevada Current

Bears have been unwanted visitors in the neighborhood for years, and wildlife experts believe it’s because of how easy the residents and the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association have made it for the animals to find food there. Denise Upton, animal care director at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, told the Tahoe Daily Tribune in 2020 that the Tahoe Keys is a hotspot for bear activity. “We by far get more calls in that area than any other concentrated area.” The TKPOA forbids the use of bear boxes, claiming that they’re too expensive and ugly.   

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“There’s no doubt he’s damaged homes,” Keys resident Patti Sherwin told This Is Reno. “But we invited it by leaving empty juice boxes and garbage lying around.” 

Warmer winters are also contributing to bears ending up in backyards—they’re hibernating less if they do at all, instead spending all winter looking for people food. Wildfire seasons that destroy their natural food sources and habitats can also push bears to seek other food sources. In 2021, a woman was mauled inside her home in Lake Tahoe when a bear broke in as she was sleeping. 

Ann Bryant, Executive Director of the BEAR League, told CBS 13 that they’re working on finding a sanctuary for the half-ton fella. “It’s how the community feels,” Bryant said. “They do not want the bear to pay the price for human ignorance. So when a bear is set to die in their community, people take a stand.” Moving all wandering bears to sanctuaries isn’t a permanent solution, however.

Here’s the Fattest Bear

Former South Lake Tahoe Mayor Brooke Laine told This Is Reno that neighbors have started coming together to acknowledge that they’re part of the problem, and to work on solutions for their bear troubles, following a bear-break in spree of “something like eight homes” on one block. “[Residents] all put up defense mechanisms and they haven’t had a break in since. So we know it works. You can’t kill enough bears to get rid of this problem. We have to be a part of the solution.”

Measures like electric fences, deterrent odors, and proper garbage disposal could keep bears away, she said. “But they’re going to choose easy food over eating ten tons of berries. They’d rather have a pizza.”