Warm weather waking up Tahoe’s fuzzy friends
It’s time to wake up, sleepyheads.
That is what Mother Nature is saying to numerous Lake Tahoe residents.
Not human residents, however. Black bears.
“With the warm weather we’ve had lately, they’re going to start popping up,” said Pat Shanley, forest wildlife biologist of the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. “I would imagine some of them are out already.”
Matt Tipton, who lives at the top of Kingsbury Grade, can attest to that. A bear tore into his garbage cans Thursday.
“It was full grown, but it was thin because of hibernation. It was an adult,” he said. “You could tell it was hungry. It opened up the garbage can like it was experienced.”
The basin’s black bears have been hibernating for several months. They sometimes wake up, but for the most part the fuzzy creatures seem to disappear from the basin during the winter.
As the snow melts, however, providing vegetation for foraging bears, they will start to wake up at an increasing rate. Bears at high elevations may not emerge from hibernation until May, Shanley said.
Bears can hibernate in various locations. Some may dig holes underneath huge rocks on a hillside. They may sleep in a large, rotten, hollowed-out tree. Some bears curl up next to large trees and let snow cover them. They typically hibernate on northern or northeastern slopes, which are more shaded and have a larger buildup of snow.
A variety of factors contribute to bears’ emergence, such as temperature fluctuations and the availability of food.
A bear’s metabolic rate slows down in the winter, and it feeds off of its storage of body fat. Depending on how foraging went in the fall, bears can emerge from hibernation in the spring very healthy or in very bad shape. Some may even perish during the winter.
Because Lake Tahoe residents and visitors will start seeing more and more of the furry animals, it’s a good time to remind everyone of something they should already know: Don’t feed bears.
“The most dangerous bears are the ones that have lost their fear of people. In feeding them, all you’re doing is making them lose their fear of people. That can make them pretty aggressive when they want food,” Shanley said. “Everyone tries to draw them in a little closer; It’s such a neat experience to draw them in a little closer. Some people think they’re helping them by feeding them when that’s actually the worst thing you can do.”
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