Just after midnight on Sept. 28, a medium-sized black bear was captured on video in Sonoma Valley, at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. The bear was crossing a stream where a camera had been set up by a California State Parks biologist to monitor wildlife movement.
Several evenings later, another State Parks staff member saw bear scat near the park’s day use picnic area. Later, unaware of this activity, a park volunteer reported to park managers sighting what he thought might be a bear while walking on the park’s eastern trails.
“This is pretty exciting news for us,” said Richard Dale, executive director of Sonoma Ecology Center, lead partner for Team Sugarloaf, a group of local nonprofits that operates the park for the state.
“We’ve known for years that Sugarloaf and protected areas around it make up a large landscape that supports an unusual diversity of plants and animals,” Dale said. “For example, because of its diverse habitat, there are more than 40 rare species in the park. It would make sense that a young bear seeking new territory would be attracted to this place.”
Breck Parkman, senior state archeologist for State Parks, identified bear scat near the day use area in early October. “I’ve seen plenty of bear sign in places I’ve worked, and this looked like bear scat. It wasn’t horse or coyote scat,” Parkman said, adding that bears have visited the park before, including a black bear sow and cub recorded about 10 years ago, leaving prints in the mud near the creek.
The last confirmed black bear sighting in Sonoma Valley was in Glen Ellen in 1999. A young bear eventually climbed a tree at the Gaige House Inn and was later tranquilized and removed to Lake County.
Black bears infrequently visit Sonoma Valley, at the southern end of their range. Dale noted that bear populations are rising around the state, and this individual was probably a younger bear looking for a place to set up a territory. There are resident black bears in Mendocino, Lake, and northern Sonoma County.
“The bear at Sugarloaf may have moved on, or it may have found a protected area to spend the winter,” Dale said.
“Black bears hibernate for up to eight months,” he explained, “and in a relatively warm climate they slow down in winter and rest a lot, and may hibernate if fat enough. If he or she chose to stay around the area, we may not know until spring when it becomes more active.
“It’s a great feeling to know that Sonoma Valley is wild enough still to attract a bear,” Dale said.