Bear pawprint | Credit: Courtesy

Multiple reports of bear sightings along Maria Ygnacio Creek up above Cathedral Oaks Road came in to neighborhood watch member Jack Armstrong from alarmed residents in late September. A couple nights later, by which the time the sightings had stopped, a bear was reported killed in traffic on US 101 South at Fairview.

Armstrong, a retired city fireman and retired major in the U.S. Army, said, “We have never had any sightings reported that I’m aware of — this group is only about three years old and as far as neighborhood reporting or sighting, these were first bear that we’ve seen.” His group is called the Maria Ygnacio Neighborhood Safety Association.

All the sightings took place on September 29 near the streets of Via Regina, Via Campobello, and San Marcos Road, which are a few blocks away from Foothill School. The bear was first seen strolling up Via Regina in the middle of the night by Chuck McPartlin. He was looking through a telescope on his driveway at approximately 1 a.m., said McPartlin, who is an astronomer with the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit, when he began to hear noises coming from a neighbor’s chicken coop.

“I figured it was a coyote because we have an open space behind the houses. But a large black bear came down on Via Regina, very healthy looking, I must say, and started walking up the middle of the street. I tried to shoo him away and said, ‘Get out of here!’”

The bear took a step toward him, McPartlin said, then ran around the street searching for an exit before continuing northward to Via Parva. That was the last McPartlin saw of the bear. 

One of McPartlin’s neighbors reported that their three chickens were missing and the chicken coop broken open. The fence around the coop was knocked down, as was the fence next door. What was presumed to be bear feces were found in the driveway, and another neighbor found big bear-paw prints on some concrete slabs. The final bear sighting was a mile away, Armstrong said.

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McPartlin commented that he’d seen a report about the bear-kill on October 1 at the California Highway Patrol website. Armstrong believes it was the same bear, because no other calls came in about bear sightings after that.

Officer Jonathan Gutierrez, the California Highway Patrol public information officer for the Santa Barbara area, confirmed that a bear carcass was found south of Fairview on the right shoulder of the highway. Reports of bears were not typical in the area, Officer Gutierrez said.

“The last time a bear was in Santa Barbara must’ve been eight to 10 years ago — in the city area by State Street. I don’t see them too often, but I’ve heard of cases on [State Route] 154 within the last five years,” he said. Gutierrez added that accidents involving animals on the highway, particularly near state routes 154 and 246, tended to involve deer.

Sarah Aguilar, director of Animal Services with Santa Barbara Animal Control, similarly said the department hadn’t seen an increase in reports involving bears, but those would typically go to California Fish & Game, she said. Fish & Game did not respond to a request for comment.

For anyone who encounters a bear, Aguilar had a few tips: “Don’t panic, turn, and run because that can trigger the chase response in a bear. You want to be as large as possible so holding your hands above your head, with a jacket just to increase the visual presense of yourself [would help]. Then walk super slow backward — you don’t want to turn your back on the bear or block their escape route. And if you can’t leave the area, then just make as much noise as you can, banging on pots and pans, horn-honking, to try and scare them.”

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