Campaign Aims to Save Bears at Tahoe

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Wildlife advocates will soon take their campaign to save bears at Lake Tahoe to a new venue: grocery stores.

For a couple of weeks beginning about July 1, all Safeway stores in northern California and Hawaii will distribute bags that feature tips on how to live and recreate in bear country.

The Tahoe Council for Wild Bears is teaming up with Safeway on the "Keep Bears Alive and Wild" campaign designed to make Tahoe tourists more "bear aware."

"The wonderful thing about educating people with a simple message on a grocery bag is that it reaches all demographics," said Cynthia Wilkerson of Defenders of Wildlife.

Last month, the California Department of Fish and Game launched a statewide campaign at Lake Tahoe that has bears and other wild animals preaching to people on bumper stickers, brochures and posters:

"Keep me wild. Stash your food and trash."

California's black bear population has nearly doubled over the past decade to as many as 35,000, wildlife officials said, and those bears are bigger and hungrier.

They're increasingly running into trouble with humans as they ravage campground trash bins and neighborhood garbage cans from Tahoe, through the Sierra and into Southern California.

Since 2000, 24 bears have been killed in the Tahoe Basin because of garbage-related incidents, a protection group said.

Bear advocates are hoping the campaign at Safeway will get people to make choices that prevent bear deaths.

"This message will be really successful if people in bear country not only learn to bag their trash, but put it in bear-resistant containers as well," said biologist Carl Lackey of the Nevada Division of Wildife.

Last month, the Tahoe Council for Wild Bears made up of 11 groups installed more than 125 bear bins around Tahoe to reduce food sources.

"With all of us working together and each bringing our strengths and commitments to the council, we will accomplish our goal of keeping our bears alive and wild," said Ann Bryant of the Tahoe-based BEAR League.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)