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Was there a Black Bear Wandering around Bel Air?

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A bear found wandering through Yosemite National Park | Photo by EverJean via Flickr

A bear found wandering through Yosemite National Park | Photo by EverJean via Flickr
It was April 17th, 2006 when a contractor working on a Bel Air home looked over into Stone Canyon and swore he saw a bear. He immediately reported it to the LA Department of Water & Power, who own and operate the reservoir and in turn told the California Department of Fish & Game.

Harry Morse from Fish & Game told LAist that no records could be found of the report, but said that doesn't mean it didn't happen. If no human interaction occurred and it was just a sighting, then the report never makes the state's database and stays with local warden, who has since retired.

"We're handling bear calls all the time," Morse said, pointing out all the recent sighting highlighted by the news. "There is no shortage of [North American Black] Bears in the state. We estimate it has gone from 10,000 in the 1980's to 30,000 to 35,000 statewide these days."

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Many are suspicious about the 2006 sighting, but they do recognize that it's possible. "Normally I tend to be very skeptical when it comes to wildlife reports by the public, because if you believed them all, there would be eagles nesting in Hollywood, mountain lions on the Ballona Wetlands, etc," explained wildlife ecologist Dan Cooper in an e-mail. Bears, especially the now extinct-from-California Grizzly Bears, used to live in the Santa Monica Mountains, were here until hunters and development pushed them out.

View General Outline of a Wildlife Corridor from Santa Susans Mtns. to Santa Monica Mtns. in a larger map

Still there is a chance a Black Bear could wander into the Santa Monicas via a wildlife corridor from the Santa Susana Mountains through the Simi Hills into the Santa Monicas. That does mean crossing freeways, whether literally on the road or under or over bridges.

And that would be no surprise.

Three mountain lions are known to have crossed or tried to cross Los Angeles area freeways in the last few months. In March, one that the National Park Service has been tracking with a radio collar on his neck traveled across the 101 Freeway one night in mid March in Liberty Canyon from the Simi Hills to the Santa Monicas. Two other untracked cougars were killed this month--one on the 5 freeway in the Newhall Pass and another on the 405 in the Sepulveda Pass.

Once east of the 405, there isn't much of what is usually referred to as a wildlife corridor with all the development in Bel Air and beyond. However, Cooper says animals will make a corridor out of anything, whether it is open space or development. "Animals go where they want, and I don't see any more reason why one should move along a brush-choked stream than an open road," he said. "There are also corridors at many levels--the whole Sierra Nevada may be thought of as a corridor from northern to southern California. That brushy slope above your house can be a corridor through the neighborhood. Once anything can be a corridor, anything is."

We may never know if that bear ever was in Bel Air that day (or still is), but one thing is for sure--it's not beyond reality.

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