A Warm Winter May Wake Bears Early

We’re seeing the effects of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change everywhere. Weather patterns are being disrupted, certain natural processes are out of sync, and wildlife is struggling to keep up with the destructive pace we’re setting on a global scale.

In the Sierra Nevada mountain range an unseasonably warm winter may wake slumbering black bears early. Bears aren’t true hibernators (instead going through a process called torpor) as their core body temperatures, heart rates, and metabolisms don’t drop as drastically during winter inactivity. Changes in their surroundings such as diminishing snow cover, warmer temperatures, and human disturbance can rouse a sleeping bear weeks before their usual expected return.

When black bears do emerge from their winter dens, they’re incredibly hungry and need to refuel as soon as possible; males can drop up to 30% of their body weight during torpor, and pregnant females can lose up to 40%. Normally warmer temperatures and melting snow cover coincides with the arrival of spring and blooming plants, but these recent shifts in weather cause bears to return to a stark, less-vibrant land without the new growth that usually sustains them after an energetically taxing torpor.

Things can get dangerous when bears can’t find enough food in the surrounding area and use their incredible sense of smell to lead them to a year-round, readily available food source — our backyards! It’s critical to deter bears from coming around human residences by properly securing your garbage and keeping food (including pet food) indoors. Keep bears away from your home for both your safety and theirs.

Aaron Huelsman

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