Monday, 15 July 2024

Spring weather is coming, and with it some very hungry bears

A black bear with an ear tag climbs a tree in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Photo courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The snow will be melting soon in the Lake Tahoe region and a heavy winter will give way to a busy spring for wildlife in the area. Bears that have been in winter dens will be emerging soon and they will be hungry!

In the fall, black bears went through hyperphagia (pronounced hi·per·fay·jee·uh), which is an increase in feeding activity (consuming about 25,000 calories a day) driven by their need to fatten up before winter.

Over the course of the winter, bear bodies utilize those fat stores during hibernation when food is scarce. Come spring, their body mass will have naturally decreased and as a result, bears will be on the lookout for easy food sources to help rebuild those fat reserves.

Heavy snow brings challenges for bears

Bears in the Tahoe Basin will be in a difficult position this year as they come out of their dens and are met with historic snow loads across their habitat. The grasses and other sprouts that would usually be greening up with the melting of snow won’t be available until much later in the spring.

Bears will instinctively move to lower elevations to find those fresh greens, but the snow will make them search for easier routes like roads and trails. This is going to bring bears down into urban areas as they move through the mountains.

As bears make their way through the area, please be vigilant about cleaning up bear attractants. We know a lot of people felt it important to feed the birds this winter, but please do not let your bird feeders feed the bears. Now is the time to take them down completely.

Bears can and will be active day and night, so we recommend taking feeders down and keeping them down. We also know proper disposal of garbage can be difficult with snow piling up on the roads, but please take a few minutes to dig out your bear boxes so garbage can easily be secured inside.

Clean out your vehicles, especially if you have food stored in your vehicle for winter travel safety. In addition, remember to keep doors and windows locked on buildings so bears cannot break into structures.

Your actions can impact an entire ecosystem

Bears play an important role in Lake Tahoe’s ecosystem and allowing them access to human food and garbage is detrimental to natural processes in the region.

Bears help spread berry seeds through their scat, transport pollen, clean up animals that died during the winter, eat insects, and provide other essential functions of nature.

As a result, if they find and access human food and garbage, bird seed, pet food, coolers, and other sources of human food, the Tahoe Basin loses the benefits bears offer to these natural processes. Bears need to be wild animals rather than garbage disposals, especially since unnatural food sources can impact their overall health by damaging and/or rotting their teeth.

In fact, bears will unknowingly eat undigestible items from human trash like foil, paper products, plastics, and metal that can damage their internal systems and even lead to death. If these items do make it through their digestive system, they leave it behind in their scat rather than the native seeds and healthy fertilizer needed to grow the next generation of plant life.

Call the experts

Spring is also the time of year that residents or visitors may see a bear they feel looks unhealthy, sick, or orphaned. If anyone has concerns about a bear’s health, never hesitate to call official wildlife experts.

If the bear needs help, state agency wildlife experts have the training and expertise to assess the bear’s condition and transport it to a wildlife veterinarian. Healthy bears mean healthy ecosystems, and we can all do our part to set both up for success!

For great tips about living responsibly with bears, visit tahoebears.org and bearwise.org.

The bottom line is that Lake Tahoe is bear country. It’s up to each one of us, including those living in, visiting, or recreating in the Tahoe Basin to practice good stewardship habits by always securing food, trash, and other scented items. Good habits will help ensure we keep Tahoe bears wild.

To report human-bear conflicts:

In California, contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife at 916-358-2917 or report online using the Wildlife Incident Reporting (WIR) system at apps.wildlife.ca.gov/wir.

Non-emergency wildlife interactions in California State Parks can be reported to their public dispatch at 916-358-1300.

In Nevada, contact the Nevada Department of Wildlife at 775-688-BEAR (2327).

If the issue is an immediate threat, call the local sheriff’s department or 911.

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