With reports of bear sightings fairly frequent this season, it may seem strange to hear that only now are bears expected to emerge from their dens. But that seems to be the case.
According to the Nevada Department of Wildlife, mid-March is the time of year for black bears — typically males and females who do not have cubs — to begin their annual search for food.
Females with cubs usually come out of hibernation later in the spring, sometime between mid-April to early May.
“The bears are ready to eat as they emerge from their long winter’s nap,” biologist Carl Lackey said in a statement. “They will eat emergent grasses and forbs and will also key in on the carrion of dead and decaying animals that died over the winter period.”
In the Lake Tahoe Basin, human garbage will be a sought-after source of food for bears. For this reason, Lackey suggests heeding the usual advice: keep garage doors shut, car doors locked and all food sources away from bears.
“If you live in bear country,” he said, “do not allow bears access to garbage.”
The first bears to get into trouble each year are typically young males, many of which are “generational garbage bears,” Lackey said. That means they are born to females who teach them that human garbage is a viable food source.
However, people who deliberately feed bears by placing birdseed, vegetables or other plant matter out in places near their homes are also problematic, according to NDOW.
Bear feeding is a problem the department has had to deal with before, said NDOW spokesman Chris Healy. It led to a bear being euthanized last year after it became a threat to public safety.
“The bear’s behavior was disturbing because it had no fear of humans,” he stated. “The person or person feeding the bear, through their actions, acclimated it to humans as a source of food and the bear ended up paying the ultimate price for their actions.”
At least two bears have already been spotted in the Lake Tahoe Basin this month, although no reports have connected them to deliberate feedings by humans.
A 2-year-old male bear — partially paralyzed for unknown reasons — had to be euthanized after it was found at an Incline Village golf course March 7, according to NDOW.
After tranquilizing the roughly 200-pound bear and taking it to a veterinarian, no evidence could be found to suggest it had been hit by a car or to explain how the animal was paralyzed.
However, Healy said it’s not uncommon for bears to emerge from dens and not always survive. Sometimes the animals turn in for the winter in poor shape, and some don’t emerge at all.
In a separate incident, a scraped-up bear was found wandering around a chairlift at Heavenly Mountain Resort on March 3. That 1-year-old bear was taken to a South Lake Tahoe veterinarian to be examined.
It was bleeding from a puncture wound on its right shoulder and had scraped-up pads on the bottoms of its paws at the time it was found.
The bear’s wounds were cleaned up, and the animal was started on antibiotics. It’s expected to heal with food and time.
With another spotting occurring in Carson City last weekend, Healy said people should be ready for busy bear season.
“Because of the ongoing drought conditions, we are expecting a very busy nuisance bear year,” he said. “People in bear country need to be ready to do all they can to keep the bears wild and away from human sources of food.”