Bear hibernation seasons are getting shorter | SierraSun.com
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Bear hibernation seasons are getting shorter

Jeremy Morrison, Sun News Service

As the seasons blend into each other – snow melting, birds singing, flowers blooming – it has come time for area bears to stumble out of hibernation and resume their meandering food foray.

In an area such as Tahoe, where the stomping grounds of the populous and the wildlife are one and the same, cycles of nature can be thrown off kilter. Without the impetus to retire for a winter’s sleep, some area black bears have been spending their hibernation season restlessly rummaging through tasty trash.

“The easy access to garbage year-round could make the bears hibernate less,” explained Carl Lackey, a wildlife biologist with the Nevada Division of Wildlife.

In the midst of cooperative study with the University of Nevada, Reno, Lackey is looking at various aspects of bear life, including the effects of urban influence such as residential garbage.

“The availability of garbage has totally changed the system in which these bears operate. That’s very obvious,” Lackey said.

According to Lackey, who has been collaring and studying bears for the past couple of years, the reality of an easy food score could keep the animals from their hibernation dens. Hibernation for bears is not spurred by physical or reproductive necessity, but by the lack of available food in winter. Mating is not impacted by the lack of hibernation.

“It’s not the cold weather that causes a bear to hibernate. It’s the food source,” said Joe Madison, the lead wildlife technician at Yosemite National Park.

A couple of years ago, Madison explained, dumpsters in the park were left unlocked and bears remained active – constantly raiding the trash for treats. When the dumpsters were secured, the bear activity dropped off; in warmer climates, such as Florida where there’s a constant food supply, bears do not hibernate at all.

But in the Tahoe area, where winter’s snow blanket has traditionally smothered the natural pantry, bears definitely do hibernate. But, in recent time, as a healthy population of people has begun to inhabit the wildlands of the high Sierra, bears have been breaking their hibernation down into paced cat naps.

“They’re out and getting into things,” reported Ann Bryant, founder of the BEAR League. “If there’s food available, they will not hibernate.”

Bryant has been advocating mandatory bear-proof garbage receptacles in hope that less available food for bears will reduce the animals contact with people.


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