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Bear sightings at Lake Tahoe expected to rise after quiet January

Griffin Rogers
griffin@tahoedailytribune.com
A black bear hides under an Incline Village home in late January.
Courtesy NDOW |

Bears in the Lake Tahoe Basin have remained out of sight and most likely in hibernation this year despite record-warm temperatures and an unusual amount of sunshine.

Bear sightings have been almost nonexistent up until a couple weeks ago. However, authorities on the animals expect things won’t stay that way for long.

“It’s been real slow,” said Chris Healy, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “That being said, we expect conflict bears to be a challenge any week now.”

Bear sightings in the basin were a fairly frequent occurrence at the beginning of last year. One bear was even caught on camera ambling across a Heavenly Mountain Resort ski run in early January.

But this year has been a different story, and no one’s really sure why.

“We’re all kind of surprised we haven’t had more activity, but we also know it’s going to pick up very quickly,” Healy added.

On a typical year with lots of snow, young male bears — usually the first to emerge after hibernation — won’t show their faces until about mid-march, according to experts. They’ll come out of their shelters and start foraging for greens and other easy snacks, but interaction with humans doesn’t typically occur until June or July.

However, winters in Tahoe lately have been far from typical. Warmer-than-normal temperatures, along with the accompanying sunshine, have led to many bears exiting their dens early the past couple years, only to find that dry weather has been limiting their natural food supply.

That means more bears have been heading into town.

“If we have another dry year, which it seems like it could be, we anticipate it could be another big conflict bear year,” Healy said.

Statistically, 2007 was NDOW’s busiest year in regard to “nuisance bears” — those creating a disturbance in their search for human food sources. The second busiest year was 2013, but Healy said he wouldn’t be surprised if 2014 takes that title once data from last year is finalized.

This year could also turn out to be busy year for bear conflicts, but so far the only major sighting reported to NDOW has been of a 400-pound black bear sleeping under an Incline Village residence. An NDOW biologist chased that bear out about two weeks ago.

BEAR League Founder Ann Bryant said she has also heard of more sightings recently after an almost silent January. One was of a mother bear and cub in Kings Beach, and another was of a mother and cub in South Lake Tahoe.

“I can easily say we’ve gotten 20 calls for sightings in the last two weeks,” she said, adding. “The more they wake up this early, the more trouble we’re going to have.”

With the increase of bear sightings, Bryant recommended that people keep food sources locked up and away from the paws of bears.

Healy suggested the same.

“Protect your garbage, don’t feed bears, and don’t attract bears either deliberately or inadvertently,” he said.


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