SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Many days this winter have been almost spring-like, which is great for hikers, bikers and skiers looking to ply the slopes in T-shirts.
But it’s bad for bears, who need their seasonal slumber and a wet winter to provide for their summer feasts.
“We started to get really worried,” said Ann Bryant, executive director of the BEAR League. “A lot of them that had gone to bed were waking back up.”
But with the generally warmer weather and little precipitation, bears have been reported wandering from their dens. The unusual conditions have also impacted other forms of wildlife in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
The BEAR League has received more than 25 calls from people reporting bear activity, Bryant said.
“I just got hit myself last night,” said Cheryl Millham, one of the founders and the director of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care on the South Shore.
The bear broke down the door to Millham’s aviary, looking for food, she said. She’s never had bear problems this time of year, she added.
“This guy was obviously hungry,” she said. “We’ve never had them break down doors before.”
Millham has also been keeping an eye on the birds around Lake Tahoe. She’s seeing migratory species here now that don’t usually arrive until March and April.
“The bird movement around here is about a month-and-a-half early,” she said. “The robins are already up and they don’t typically come until spring.”
A snowstorm could spell the end of the robins and threshes that are here for warmer weather, Millham said.
“If we get a big storm, the birds that are here are all dead if they can’t find food,” she said. “They won’t leave again until after the season.”
But some biologists don’t agree that anything especially out of the ordinary is happening.
“It may be a little atypical in the number of bears this year, but it’s not unheard of for bears to not hibernate,” said Cristen Langner, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Game who focuses on bears in the Lake Tahoe Basin. “Even when they do hibernate, it’s not uncommon for bears to wake up and leave the den.”
Carl Lackey, a wildlife biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, said he’s responded to a few calls of bears sleeping under houses, but that’s about it.
A dry winter poses bigger concerns than just waking up bears from their beauty sleep, Lackey said.
“The spring precipitation we hope for is what really brings on the late summer, early fall berry crop,” Lackey said. “Without that, a lot of bears will come down and get into the garbage.”
Bryant is also fearful of what could happen if the vegetation doesn’t get the precipitation it needs to bear fruit. She remembers the exceptionally dry summer of 2007 when there were as many as 25 bear break-ins a day.
“We don’t want a repeat of that,” Bryant said. “We need some moisture, some storms.”