Keep bears wild as they seek food for winter

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Fall is officially here and as bears prepare for hibernation they seek massive amounts of calories in fish, seeds, berries, grubs and other high-protein foods. Human food should not fall into this category.

Wild black bears normally eat around 5,000 calories a day but in the fall they need an average of 20,000 calories a day to store as fat over winter. Bears in the Tahoe Basin and other parts of El Dorado County tend to consume more than they need by eating unhealthy human foods, as well as staying more active over the winter months to try and take advantage of unsecured garbage and food.

Hibernation, or torpor as it’s more accurately referred to for bears, occurs in late fall or early winter as the weather cools and natural food becomes less available. This slows down a bear’s metabolism and allows them to reduce activity in their dens and live off their fat stores.

Habituated bears, and males in particular, will often leave the den during this time and seek out easily obtainable food. Females will give birth at the beginning of the year and are more likely to stay in their dens. This could explain why Tahoe area residents still see some bear activity in the winter.

During hyperphagia, bears can be very focused and persistent about getting food. They will spend most of the day trying to eat and can be more vulnerable to vehicle strikes and interaction with people. California Department of Fsh and Wildlife officials ask people not try to defend a food source from a hungry bear. Use of locking dumpsters and bear-resistant trash containers are recommended. Trash that doesn’t fit into full containers, whether at a rental, the beach or a trailhead, should be packed out.

CDFW officials would like to remind folks that it is illegal and unhealthy to feed bears and can lead to human-bear conflicts such as home/vehicle break-ins or physical contact.

Bear managers and law enforcement may be out hazing bears. Officers yelling at bears, using airhorns or chasing them is an effort to get bears out of populated areas or to give them a negative experience with humans instead of a food reward. Officers may fire less-lethal bean bag rounds when it is determined safe to do so. This may temporarily deter bears or force them to leave the area and while it may sting, it is not meant to cause injury.

Bears often climb a tree to escape danger. This is the time to back off, get somewhere safe and let them come down on their own. CDFW officials say hazing bears up in trees won’t work and sends a mixed message to the bear.

Living and recreating in bear country is a year-round responsibility. CDFW bear managers advise against leaving groceries, animal feed, garbage or anything scented in vehicles, campsites or tents. Barbecue grills should be kept clean and stored in a garage or shed when not in use. Doors and windows should be locked when a home is unoccupied. Vegetable gardens, compost piles, orchards and chickens may attract bears. Use electric fences where allowed to keep bears out.

To report human-bear conflicts contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife at (916) 358-2917 or report online using the wildlife incident reporting system at Non-emergency wildlife interactions in California State Parks can be reported to its public dispatch at (916) 358-1300.

For more information on coexisting with bears visit

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