‘Fast and furry’: Tracking California’s bears with GPS technology – NBC Los Angeles

In many ways, it was a typical sight in Southern California this week as yet another black bear wandered into an area too close to home.

What was unusual about the Chatsworth sighting, however, was the location itself: far from where bears are usually spotted in the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley.

“So with her, we were able to confirm that: Oh, yes! That is the bear that was seen in Chatsworth,” said Jessica West, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “And yes, she is in a location where she does not have immediate access to suitable habitat.”

West spoke with NBC4 to explain more about how the agency tracks bears across the state, starting with that first interaction.

In the case of this particular bear, known to the agency as Yellow 2291, the first interaction occurred in late May when she was caught in a wildlife trap about 60 miles away in Claremont.

West said Yellow 2291 was tagged, screened for health issues and eventually fitted with a GPS collar.

“She actually has some of the most interesting collar data we've ever seen,” West said. “She's just wandering around. That's maybe a little more typical for male bears, just because as males they tend to have larger territories.”

After its release in just over a month, Yellow 2291 has proven to be fast and furry. It travels west from Claremont along Corridor 210, crosses Highways 5 and 14, and heads down Corridor 118 to the Simi Hills.

West said the bear made it as far as Malibu before returning north to the San Fernando Valley, where she was recaptured and released into the wild this week.

“This bear was once again making some of the craziest moves,” West explained, adding that bears have incredible homing abilities and were probably trying to return to a more familiar area. “We were just watching her and thought, okay, it looks like she's already on her way back to the Angeles National Forest. Let's just help her out and get her there a little faster.”

She was released there this week and is still being persecuted.

The battery life of GPS collars for adult bears can be between 1 and 2 years. The collars weigh no more than 3 to 5 percent of an animal's body weight.

“When we apply collars, we always make sure they are neither too tight nor too heavy,” West said.

Why Yellow 2291 decided to cross such a large portion of Los Angeles County is still unclear, experts say, but they hope their investigation will one day give them a clearer answer.

“She's still a mystery to us in many ways,” West said. “Yeah, she's a really cool bear.”