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Marin Independent Journal

May 31, 2003

Bear sightings prompt warning on Mt. Tam

Author: Mark Prado, IJ reporter

Section: Marin

Visitors to Mount Tamalpais are being warned to exercise caution after a 300 pound-plus black bear - possibly the same one seen at Point Reyes National Seashore last weekend - was spotted the past two days.

Officials have posted warning signs in the Mt. Tam watershed and officials with the state Department of Fish and Game are monitoring the situation.

"There is only a very remote chance a bear would attack," said Rick Parmer, acting regional manager for Fish and Game. "If a biker startled the bear, the bear will likely be just as startled and run off."

For now, the department is taking a "live and let live" policy with the bear, but would take action if it causes problems, said Parmer, who emphasized that people should not feed the animal.

Parmer said it is unclear if the bear is the same one seen early Sunday morning in the Limantour Beach area as it rummaged through the Point Reyes Hostel compost bin. That area is abou! t 17 miles northwest of Mt. Tam.

On Thursday, David Jaffe and Nancy Rumsey of Mill Valley, zookeepers at the San Francisco Zoo, were walking on the west side - known as the shady side - of Bon Tempe Lake at Mt. Tam when they noticed rustling about 15 to 20 feet up in a dead tree.

"We both froze in our tracks," Jaffe said. "We watched it climb down the tree with something. I sort of got curious and moved forward and watched it from about 60 feet away. I watched for like 10 to 15 seconds, then he must have heard us and he took off.

"The adrenaline was pumping, but I didn't feel threatened. It was a beautiful animal."

Rusmey wasn't as relaxed, especially when the bear looked right at the pair.

"My heart went in my throat and I thought we are going to die. I thought he was going to charge us," she said.

But the bear - believed to be a young male - instead dashed toward Bon Tempe Dam. Yesterday morning, garbage cans near Lake Lagunitas w! ere found tossed about with trash strewn everywhere, likely the work o f a hungry bear, officials said.

Then yesterday, at about 1 p.m., a biker reported seeing a bear near Eldridge Grade, where it intersects with Wheeler Trail, a couple of miles southeast of Bon Tempe. The cyclist reported the bear appeared to be headed in the direction of Mill Valley.

"The report is unconfirmed, but it seems to be about right from what we know," said Casey May, superintendent of water resources for the Marin Municipal Water District, which oversees much of the Mt. Tam watershed. The water district is working to make sure all garbage cans are sealed.

Bears tend to be solitary mammals except during mating season, in June and July, according to biologists. In recent years, the black bear population has increased and its current range has expanded slightly southward.

The place nearest Marin where black bears were seen most recently is Occidental, in Sonoma County, more than 35 miles north, according to Fish and Game. They can travel up! to 10 miles a day.

Black bears were once common in Marin County but unregulated killing eliminated them from the area by the late 1800s.

If a bear is seen, the MMWD offers these tips:

- Never approach or run from a bear.

- Never feed a bear.

- Remove or contain all things that might attract a bear, anything smelly or edible like food, pet food or garbage.

- If a bear approaches, create a general commotion and make yourself appear larger by standing up, raising your arms and opening your jacket.

- Be particularly wary if there is a bear cub present.

Parmer said adults should not worry about going to the mountain, but parents should keep a close eye on children.

"If you are attacked, you want to fight back with anything available," Parmer said. "You can't outrun a bear, they can get up to 35 mph."

Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at mprado@marinij.com

(c) 2003 Marin Independent Journal. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.