When wildlife officials caught a small bear last month in a Westlake Village drainage pipe, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Since 1985, California’s black bear population has grown from around 5,000 to nearly 35,000 today, officials estimate. That means more of them will likely be wandering through the hills in and around Simi Valley, across the Conejo Valley and into the Santa Monica Mountains. “If bears do make it into the Santa Monica Mountains, they made it on their own,” said Mike Stefanak, a warden with the state Department of Fish and Game who used bacon May 26 to catch the Westlake Village bear near the Ventura Freeway. “We’re not going to respond unless it is a problem.” Both that bear and another captured April 25 in Thousand Oaks had caused concern by making their way up to Westlake High School and climbing the walls of nearby condo developments. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2Wildlife officials speculated the bears captured recently came from the north through one of the wildlife corridors across the Ronald Reagan Freeway. They guessed the bears were crossing in the Santa Susana Pass area or where routes 23 and 118 come together near Moorpark, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks. Black bears were almost unheard of in the Conejo Valley until 2004, when two of them were found in the Agoura Hills-Thousand Oaks area and another was killed by a rock slide near Malibu Creek State Park. Although they are called California black bears, they are typically dark brown. Adult males usually weigh from 150 to 300 pounds, although some have been found at more than 600 pounds. In the high mountains they can hibernate for months, but in warm Southern California they don’t always need to. In Ventura County, they have moved into areas once roamed by the grizzly, which is displayed on the state flag although it was extinct in California by 1922. Despite their size, they can usually find enough food in the wild, partly because they eat all kinds of stuff, including ants, berries, acorns and some grasses. “They are not hurting for natural food,” Stefanak said. But others warned that bears also have a tendency to get into garbage cans and orchards around homes. “I think it is likely a bear will wander into the Santa Monica Mountains area, given the number we have seen in the Simi Hills in the last couple of years,” said Ray Sauvajot, a research scientist with the National Parks Service. While the parks service hasn’t documented one crossing the 101, there were reports of a bear in the Calabasas area three years ago, and about two years ago the body of a bear was found in the Santa Monica Mountains, where it had been hit by a rock slide. He said the way authorities respond will depend on the behavior. “It would be great if they eat their natural food and behave as they would in a wilderness area,” he said. “We wouldn’t feel a need to respond.” But if a bear gets into the mountains and starts eating grapes out of the vineyards or breaking into cars and ice chests, it might be captured and relocated. “People live in close proximity to bears in over half the state of California,” said Doug Updike, wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game.Updike said there is enough shelter and food in the Santa Monica Mountains to support bears but agreed the animals might face problems living close to humans, where they will be tempted to approach homes looking for garbage and pet food. [email protected] (805) 583-7602160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!