Bears look for holiday feasts

Local black bears have been rummaging through Ashland garbage cans this week, looking for their ration of holiday treats.

The Ashland Police Department received two different calls, one Monday and another Tuesday, about bear sightings in town, said Lt. Corey Falls.

Kent Noonan, whose house is above Siskiyou Boulevard on Waterline Road, awoke around midnight Tuesday to the sounds of a garbage bag being ripped open and rummaged through, he said.

"I didn't see them but I heard a noise late last night and in the morning my garbage can was busted and I saw the tracks in the snow," he said Tuesday.

After grabbing the bagful of garbage, the bears headed east, toward Siskiyou Boulevard, leaving a trail of trash and two sets of footprints — one big and one small, Noonan said.

"I'm glad I wasn't there to see them in real life, because those were big enough tracks that I would have been a bit worried," he said.

"They visit here once in awhile, but it's unusual here in the middle of winter. I figured they would be hibernating by now."

It's not uncommon for there to be bear sightings in Ashland, even in the snowy months, said Mark Vargas, wildlife biologist with the Rogue Watershed District, part of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"This time of year especially, with the snow and the scarcity of food, some of the bears that haven't gone to sleep, they're going to be searching for some food in compost piles and garbage cans, which will bring them closer into the fringes of town," he said.

Because Ashland doesn't get as cold as some northern areas and because human trash can serve as a winter food source, some local bears don't hibernate at all, he added.

"This often happens when there's an interface where there's a good habitat for bears and there's people nearby, and Ashland is a primary candidate, specifically in the foothills."

Since bears could be prowling in Ashland yards all winter, locals need to take precautions — for their sake and the bears', Vargas said.

"What we usually like to tell people is: A fed bear is a dead bear. If people feed it on purpose, it's usually going to end up being killed because it becomes a problem," he said.

The Rogue Watershed District recommends that people only put trash out the night of garbage pick-up, cover up compost piles, keep barbecue pits clean and bring in pet food and bird feeders at night.

"Nuisance bears, like most wildlife problems, are caused by people's behavior," Vargas said.

In other words — even though it's the season of sharing — it's better to hold off on feeding the local bears holiday dinner leftovers.

Staff writer Hannah Guzik can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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