Bridging Tahoe's bear selfie problem – literally
It’s about to get more difficult for careless California selfie-seekers to strike a pose with their second favorite subjects.
That’s because a private, non-profit organization is raising cash to upgrade a South Lake Tahoe boardwalk that’s seen a swarm of selfie-shooters seeking shots with local bears.
The Tahoe Fund, an organization that raises money for conservation, recreation and education causes around Lake Tahoe, is seeking to raise $28,000 for the project at the Taylor Creek Visitor Center.
The money would pay to raise, widen and add railings to a boardwalk that overlooks Taylor Creek.
That’s the spot where an annual, autumn run of Kokanee salmon attracts bears looking to feast on fish and hordes of tourists who want a peek at the action.
The problem is some visitors haven’t been happy to keep a respectful distance between themselves and the wildlife.
It’s gotten so bad in recent years the U.S. Forest Service, which operates the Taylor Creek site, has warned managers might need to restrict access as a means to reduce the risk of selfie-obsessed visitors getting more than they bargained for out of a bear interaction.
“With the bear selfies people just sort of forgot this isn’t a theme park, it isn’t Disney World,” said Amy Berry, CEO of the Tahoe Fund. “This is a real, true, natural environment people are recreating in.”
It’s one of three projects for which the Tahoe Fund is seeking funding this year. The others include a bike trail extension between Dollar Point and Carnelian Bay on the north side of the lake and improvements to a trail between the Rubicon Trail and the Rubicon Point Lighthouse.
The upgraded boardwalk at Taylor Creek would elevate human foot traffic above the creek and the railing would provide a barrier between the people and the bears.
The plan is to raise the money this year, start construction in spring and have the project completed before the 2017 salmon run.
Berry said boardwalk improvements are better than access restrictions that could prevent responsible people from watching the bears and the fish. And it’s much better than having someone provoke a bear into a confrontation that could lead to injury or death for the human or the bear.
“We want to protect the salmon habitat and the bear habitat,” she said. “We don’t want to close things down.”
Lake Tahoe isn’t the only place where people hunting perfect pictures has resulted in problems for wildlife.
Last year officials closed Colorado’s Waterton Canyon to recreation access in order to prevent people from getting too close to resident bears, one of which chased a cyclist.
Also last year in Yellowstone National Park a woman was attacked by a bison after she crept within a few yards of the massive animal before turning her back to it so she could get a photo.
According to the Associated Press the bison charged, the woman tried to flee but was overtaken and tossed into the air. Fortunately, she only suffered minor injuries and major embarrassment.
It was one of five photo-related bison attacks in the same year in the park, according to reports.
Gina Thompson, recreation manager for the Lake Tahoe Basin Unit of the U.S. Forest Service, said she’s hopeful the new boardwalk will help keep people a respectful distance from wildlife while still allowing a good vantage point for photography.
“What we’re wanting to do is be in a position where the public still has access to what they would like to see and nature still has an opportunity to do its thing,” Thompson said. “This is actually nature and we don’t have control of nature.”