A mother black bear and two young cubs captured on camera at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park have sparked excitement among park staffers in recent weeks, as well as inspiring steps intended to keep the animals safe and to minimize their interaction with human visitors.
Park personnel believe the appearance of a family group suggests a small bear population may be taking up residence in the area, not just passing through as was more likely the case in the past few years. Solo bears have been photographed by wildlife cameras around the region.
“I don’t think a mother bear would be traveling a long distance with her cubs,” said State Parks environmental scientist Bill Miller, who manages the motion-activated camera that recorded the trio as they passed by on the night of Aug. 21.
Not all of the area’s wildlife experts agree that the bears are permanent residents of the park, but their presence has inspired coordination between land managers at Sugarloaf and adjacent Hood Mountain Regional Park.
Employees are working to ensure that food brought into the parks is disposed of properly, leaving no chance for bears to find it and, perhaps, become habituated. That means acquiring bear-proof trash bins and educating the public about the critical importance of packing out everything and anything they might pack in, park staffers said.
Having bears in the park, especially young ones, also reinforces the importance of keeping dogs leashed, said Melanie Parker, natural resources manager for Sonoma County Regional Parks, although park rules already require that.
In the larger picture, the mother and cubs may be helping to recolonize a once-native area, a sign that efforts to keep the park wild and welcoming to wildlife have been successful, park personnel said. The growing presence of bears in the area also underscores the value of ongoing efforts to protect and expand wildlife corridors that permit animals to roam safely and unfettered between open spaces like parks and preserves, they said.
“Obviously it just makes me happy to know there are habitats that are natural and wild enough to support black bear populations. That’s really exciting,” said Parker, whose cameras at Hood Mountain have picked up male bears on three occasions in the past 2½ months.
“I think seeing the cubs is a game changer, in terms of knowing that there’s reproduction happening here, and females or males finding each other, and females finding enough food and security to rear offspring,” she said.
Bears have been sighted in Sonoma County from time to time, particularly in the West County area, where roaming bears have been reported near Occidental, Sebastopol and Guerneville, as well as the Willow Creek Watershed, part of Sonoma Coast State Park.
Farther inland, an increasing number of wildlife cameras have picked up black bears among myriad other wildlife that use our parklands, preserves and trails by night, when people aren’t around.
In addition to Hood Mountain and Sugarloaf, bears have been captured on camera at Pepperwood Preserve, north of Santa Rosa; Modini Mayacamas Preserve, northeast of Healdsburg; and at Bouverie Preserve, near Glen Ellen, the southernmost documented sighting in the county, according to Jeanne Wirka. She is director of stewardship for Audubon Canyon Ranch, which owns the 535-acre preserve. Cameras at Pepperwood and Modini also have captured cubs.