Drivers beware! Throughout the year, the Lake Tahoe Basin experiences fluctuations in the number of visitors and vehicle traffic. The winter ski and summer recreation seasons bring more vehicles to the Basin, which increases the risk of bears being struck by vehicles. Bear-vehicle collisions pose a risk to bears, people and property.
In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic when fewer cars were on the road, the California Highway Patrol reported 1,791 traffic collisions with animals, and the UC Davis Road Ecology Center estimated the total cost of animal-vehicle collisions that year in California to be more than $180 million. Not all collisions are reported and not all highway or road mortalities are accounted for, even when carcasses are picked up by the California Department of Transportation or local county crews. This data illustrates a major threat to wildlife and driver safety.
In the Tahoe Basin, it is common to see small mammals such as squirrels, chipmunks, and, occasionally, raccoons dead on the roadside, but vehicle collisions with bears are increasing. Bears attracted to supplemental feed from trash in urban areas is one reason for this increase. The result is often catastrophic injuries to the bear, dependent cubs becoming orphaned, and, on occasion, injuries to drivers. All are sad scenarios that everyone wants to avoid.
Tahoe’s black bears are not only active at night when most human activity can be avoided. Instead, they are attracted to human subsidies in and around homes and businesses around the clock. The search for food, both natural and human-provided, means bears are constantly on the move and frequently darting across busy highways and other roads around Lake Tahoe. This puts bears at greater risk of being struck by a driver who may not be expecting to encounter a bear on the road. Drivers should take steps to avoid these dangerous situations.
What can you do?
- Drivers and passengers should be aware that bears move at all times of the day and night, frequently crossing roads in the Basin as they search for food.
- Be aware that there is often more than one bear. Adult, female bears (sows) are often trailed by their cubs of the year or can be following behind them as the cubs become more independent. Keep this in mind. If you see a bear on the roadway, slow down and scan for other bears or hazards.
- NEVER stop your vehicle on the road or highway to view wildlife. This creates unsafe traffic congestion and stresses wildlife.
- Do not swerve to avoid wildlife. Swerving to avoid animals can often result in a vehicle going off the road or into oncoming traffic or trees.
- Follow speed limits, watch for signs posted in known wildlife collision areas, and most importantly SLOW DOWN.
- Always drive defensively and always keep your eyes on the road. Sharing the road with pedestrians, bicyclists, and wildlife comes with great responsibility.
Remember, properly storing garbage and food reduces the risk of bears and wildlife crossing roads to access those attractants.
Use the following phone numbers and online resources to report a vehicle collision with a bear or report a dead or injured bear along the roadway:
- In California, contact CDFW at (916) 358-2917 or report online using the Wildlife Incident Reporting (WIR) system atapps.wildlife.ca.gov/wir.
- Non-emergency bear collisions in California State Parks can be reported to its public dispatch at (916) 358-1300.
- In Nevada, contact NDOW at (775) 688-BEAR (2327).
- If the issue is an emergency, call the local sheriff’s department or 911.