Sunday’s message from Petaluma police to residents in a southwest part of the city had a contradictory feel to it: Move it along, nothing to see here — except a large bear taking refuge in a redwood tree in a sleepy corner of the city.
For more than 15 hours Sunday, in spite of the crowds that had formed in the area, authorities urged bystanders to ignore the bear. They closed off streets in anticipation of its descent from the tree. And, they watched and waited.
And waited. And waited.
North Bay Animal Services Officer Mark Scott, who put food at the base of the tree to coax the bear from his perch, said he’d stay through the night or until the bear left.
“We’re waiting it out,” he said.
Shortly before 10 p.m., after the onlookers had dispersed, all of that patience paid off.
The bear made his way to the ground and, according to an alert from Petaluma police, “was last seen near Meadowglen (Drive) heading towards the area of the Petaluma Golf and Country Club…”
Police lifted an ongoing shelter-in-place order — though residents near the country club were “encouraged’ to stay indoors — and declared that the bear was ”heading out of town.“
The day-long adventure began around 2:45 Sunday morning after authorities sent out a Nixle alert advising residents that a black bear had been spotted near the intersection of 6th and I Streets. Residents were warned to keep their distance, shelter in place and keep pets indoors.
“DO NOT APPROACH,“ the alert said. ”CALL POLICE IF YOU SEE THE BEAR.“
A second warning, sent shortly before 4:30 a.m., indicated that the bear had wandered a block or so south, to Raymond Heights.
As the morning progressed, police blocked off traffic on I Street between 6th and 8th Streets. The bear was now weighing its options from its perch about 100 feet up a towering redwood, in a grove of trees between I Street and Raymond Heights.
Police officers and wildlife experts urged residents in the area to disperse. But the sight of a good-sized black bear clinging to the trunk of a nearby tree proved irresistible for many.
“We just need to make this space quiet,” said Greg Martinelli, lands program manager for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. He was speaking just after 10 a.m. — in a voice not too far above a whisper — to a group of neighbors on Raymond Heights.
“He’s getting tired up there, you can see him moving around,” said Martinelli.
But there was this conundrum: the more people thronged to get a glimpse of the ursine attraction, the more anxious the bear became, which decreased the likelihood that it would descend.
“I am worried,” said Doris Duncan, executive director at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue. “The more people that gather around, the more of a public safety concern it’s going to be. I’m hoping people move away after they get a peek of the bear.”
The animal is “pretty big — I’m guessing probably a male, and it looks very healthy,” said Duncan, who studied the bear through powerful binoculars while standing at 20 Raymond Heights, just south of the tree it occupied.
With the binoculars, she added, “I can see him blink his eyes.”
Black bear sightings have become more common in the North Bay in recent years. They were seen on the Ring cameras of homes in Cotati and Sebastopol last spring.
Statewide, there are an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 black bears.
Noting that black bears are foragers and omnivores, Duncan said, “it takes them awhile to fill their stomach.”
While they do eat some meat, they consume more vegetation: “Grasses, acorns, walnuts falling from trees, even mice, rats and gophers, if they can catch them,” she added.
Duncan advised residents to secure their garbage, so that bears aren’t tempted by it. “There’s a huge problem right now in South Lake Tahoe” — with bears becoming dependent on human refuse.
One house up on Raymond Heights, police had knocked on the door of the Madick family at 7 a.m. and warned them: “There’s a bear in your neighbor’s yard,” recalled Marina Madick.
“We go up to Tahoe quite a bit, but we’ve never seen a bear,” added her husband, Greg. “Our friends see them all the time, but we never do.
“And now we see one almost in our backyard.”
“I got a picture of its stomach!” exclaimed their son, who looked to be about 8 years old.
A block north, on I Street, at around 2:40 a.m., Ralph Haney’s Chinese Crested Powder Puff dog named Toulouse, had commenced barking up a storm.
Moments after Toulouse detected an intruder in the backyard, Haney got a Nixle alert from the Petaluma police. A bear had been spotted at 6th and I Street — a block east of his house.
When Haney let Toulouse out early Sunday, the dog darted to a corner of the backyard where a sturdy wooden fence is normally attached to an outbuilding.
But the fence, gouged and damaged, was no longer attached to the building. Instead, it teetered precariously in the direction of the neighbors.
“It’s barely hanging on now,” Haney said. “It took some force to set that free.”
Haney’s house faces south, directly across from the lot shaded by that redwood grove now occupied by a certain problem bruin.
“It’s really beautiful, like its own private park,” he said.
The bear “could not have picked a better tree in all of Petaluma,” added Duncan. “He can take a nap up there, and wait us all out.”
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