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Tahoe bears finally bedding down for the season

Tahoe Basin black bears are beginning to enter hibernation.

Black bears typically bed down in November, however, basin bears tend stay out as late as January due, Tahoe officials say, to their extensive contact with people.

“The cold and snow trigger the hibernation cycle in the bear, but because people keep putting their trash out in non-bear-proof containers, it is providing a food source and it is interrupting the cycle,” said executive director of the BEAR League, Ann Bryant.



Not only are the bears around the basin staying out later into the winter, there are more of them as a result of human contact.

“We’ve determined that in every 25-mile area there would be 15 to 20 bears, but we also believe that these bears have come down out of other areas because we are luring them in with our dumpsters and garbage,” Bryant said.



The black bears’ winter hiatus is not a true hibernation, when an animal falls into a winter sleep and does not wake until the spring. Instead, black bears sleep for perhaps two or three weeks and wake for short intervals of time in between. The animal’s heart rate slows to between 40 and 10 beats per minute and the body temperature drops from 100 degrees to 96. These readings are much closer to normal than one would see in an animal hibernating in the true sense. However, the low vital readings slow them considerably.

“They are very groggy and they will come out of the den and go back, but they will not eat,” said the executive director of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care Inc., Cheryl Millham.

“A bear can be roused much easier than, say, a ground squirrel,” Bryant said. “They can easily be woken up.”

The first bears to go into hibernation are usually mothers with cubs. When more severe winter weather strikes, male bears begin to bed down. Except for bears with cubs, hibernation is spent alone, and black bears are very adaptive in finding suitable dens.

“Some lean up against trees and let the snow cover them and some go underneath big boulders,” Bryant said. “They will bring in some brush for bedding.”

Bryant also says that it is not uncommon for a bear to go under a house to hibernate.

“They like it under a deck because it is dry and warm,” Bryant said. “Often when people leave their homes empty over the summer they come up in the winter and report something snoring under the house.”

Black bears leave their dens for the season as soon as warm weather comes.

“If we have an early spring they can come out as early as March and April, but this is no clock or calendar we have. This is the bear’s clock,” Millham said. “The first thing they usually do is graze on grasses.”


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