Yes, the possibility of coming across a bear while on a trail ride in the Los Padres Forest is likely. There are over 1,000 California black bears here in San Luis Obispo County which is actually less than 10% of the total black bear population in California, but present none-the-less. Most California black (brown) bears live in Northern California. However, here in SLO County the Los Padres Forest – due to its large, relatively undeveloped expanse of habitat where bears can roam freely – provides a critical habitat necessary to the survival of bears living in the Southern part of California.
Do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to appear as large as possible.
So what should do when your trail ride crosses the path of a black bear? It is important to remember that you are entering the bear’s territory and the best policy is respect. Respect the bear’s space and solitude. Do not chase or have your dog chase the bear. Do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to appear as large as possible. To avoid a surprise encounter, be sure you are making noise such as talking or bush shaking. A bear bell will not frighten away a bear. It only provides noise to indicate your presence; which talking, hoof clomping, bush shaking and tack moving can also provide.
How can you help keep bears wild and not grow accustomed to the presence of humans? The biggest favor you can do for bears is to not allow them to get used to human presence through the consumption of human food or garbage. According to the Las Padres Forest Watch website, this has become a problem in the Las Padres Forest, “In Los Padres, this problem has emerged in Pine Mountain Club, a small community in the Los Padres National Forest. An organization called Los Padres Bear Aware has formed there to educate its residents about living responsibly in bear habitat.”
So if you are packing in a lunch for the day on a trail ride or planning to camp overnight, do not leave any food or garbage on the trail. “Every year, bears are killed by various government agencies because they have become habituated to humans and human food. This is a direct result of careless humans creating so-called “problem bears”. There are many thousands of dollars in damage annually done to vehicles, camping gear and backpacking gear by bears which have learned to associate humans’ possessions with food availability. If you live in wildlife habitat, please secure garbage, pet food and other food sources. When you are picnicking, car camping and backpacking, please use the food storage methods recommended by the local agency (proper methods vary by location & “local bear conditions”). If you are planning to backpack and are not able to use a bear-resistant food container or use locally-recommended food storage methods, please do not go. Remember: ‘A fed (by humans) bear is a DEAD (by humans) bear!’ ” quote from Keeping Bears Healthy and Wild.
Yes, it is likely that you may encounter BEARS on the trail. Enjoy sharing the trails with bears. Respect them and their habitat by living and riding responsibly in a bear habitat do not contribute to their demise by leaving garbage on the trail.
For more information see the Bear Safety brochure by the CA Department of Fish and Game: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/keepmewild/bear.html and the Los Padres Forest Watch website: http://lpfw.org/our-region/wildlife/california-black-bear/.