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Food drops for Tahoe bears?

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TRUCKEE, Calif. — A sharp increase in bear-human conflicts this summer is prompting a bear advocacy group to consider backcountry food drops for the animals at Lake Tahoe.

Ann Bryant, executive director of the Lake Tahoe-based BEAR League, said her group is seeking permission from the California Department of Fish and Game to use food to lure bears away from developed areas.

A lack of precipitation has led to a shortage of natural food, forcing bruins into towns in search of human food. A record 20 bears have died after being hit by vehicles in the Lake Tahoe area so far this year.

"We are going to do backcountry food drops, putting natural food back into the backcountry," Bryant told Truckee's Sierra Sun newspaper. "We have hundreds and hundreds of pounds of food we plan to put in several locations that won't bring the bears near neighborhoods."

Bryant said similar programs have been successful in other states, including Alaska and Montana.

Jason Holley, a biologist for the state wildlife agency, agreed that a scarcity of food is driving bears into populated areas. But feeding bears runs contrary to the department's policy, he said.

"It's an unnatural situation that forces bears to congregate. Who knows what long-term problems that could create," Holley said. "If the smell of people is on the food, they could be more likely to associate people with food in the future, and they could become more susceptible to hunters."

He said no real solution may exist and residents instead must maintain vigilance.

"It's just a bad situation, but people should keep doing the usual things, like proper food and garbage storage, securing their homes, having pets with you," Holley said.

In addition to keeping bears away from urban areas, Bryant said backcountry food drops would improve the animals' health by providing better nutrition.

"The bears are so hungry they are coming into people's homes, so we hope to get permission to do this — if not just for the bears, for homeowners, too," Bryant said.