Sunday, 14 July 2024

Spring weather is coming, and with it some very hungry bears: Keep Tahoe bears wild

One of the bears that call Lake Tahoe home. Photo courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The snow will melt soon in the Lake Tahoe region and winter will give way to a busy spring for area wildlife. Bears that have been wintering in their dens will emerge soon and they will be hungry.

Each fall, black bears go 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, bears’ 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 easily accessible food sources to help rebuild those fat reserves.

Bears will instinctively seek out areas where they can find fresh greens like grasses and forbs which can bring them into neighborhoods.

As bears make their way through human-populated areas, please be vigilant about cleaning up and securing bear attractants.

The Tahoe Interagency Bear Team, or TIBT, knows that many people choose to feed birds in winter, but please do not let bird feeders attract and feed bears. Now is the time to take those bird feeders down completely.

Proper disposal of garbage can be difficult when snow piles up on the roads. Tahoe Basin residents should take a few minutes to dig out bear boxes to allow garbage to be easily secured inside.

Clean out vehicles, and always keep vehicle windows closed and doors locked with no food or visible coolers inside. In addition, remember to keep doors and windows locked on buildings to prevent bears from breaking into structures.

Individual 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 the natural processes in the region. Bears help spread berry seeds through their scat, transport pollen, clean up animal carcasses after winter, eat insects, and provide other essential functions of nature.

As a result, if bears find food and garbage, bird seed, pet food, coolers, or other sources of human food, the Tahoe Basin loses the benefits bears offer to these natural processes. Unnatural food sources can impact their overall health by damaging and rotting their teeth and jeopardizing their ability to remain wild.

In fact, bears will unknowingly eat indigestible 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 believe looks unhealthy, sick, or orphaned. Bear health concerns should be reported to TIBT’s wildlife professionals at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife or the Nevada Department of Wildlife, or NDOW.

These agencies have the training, expertise, and veterinary resources to assess a bear’s condition and transport it for care. Healthy bears mean a healthy Lake Tahoe ecosystem, but it takes everyone’s cooperation to contribute to the success of both.

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

The bottom line is that the Lake Tahoe Basin is bear country. It’s up to everyone, 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 Tahoe bears remain healthy and wild.

To report human-bear conflicts or bear health concerns:

• In California, contact CDFW at 916-358-2917 or report online using the Wildlife Incident Reporting 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 NDOW at 775-688-BEAR (2327).
• If the issue is an immediate threat, call the local sheriff’s department or 911.

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