Nevada’s black bears are on the prowl for high calorie comfort food to pack on pounds before winter.
The increased bear activity is keeping biologists with the Nevada Department of Wildlife busy to make sure the hungry bruins don’t get into trouble by getting too close to people.
Wildlife officials also want residents to do their part by limiting easy pickings that attract foraging bears and lure them into situations that could lead to their death.
Trash is a No. 1 menace. Bears that become addicted to trash can lose a fear of humans, instead associating them with food. Such bears can become aggressive, a trait that many times leads to them being destroyed as a public safety hazard.
Garbage, bird feeders, pet food and fruit trees also provide tasty buffets for bears.
“People with fruit trees are asked to pick ripened fruit from the trees and off the ground as soon as possible in order to avoid any problems with bears,” NDOW biologist Carl Lackey said Wednesday. “We need to keep people and property safe and these bears wild.”
This is the time of year when bears develop a voracious appetite and increase their daily caloric intake from 3,000 calories per day to 25,000 or more.
It’s a physiological change known as hyperphagia, when bears eat as much as they can to put on as much fat as possible to sustain them through winter hibernation.
“Nothing much gets in the bear’s way when they are this hungry,” Lackey said.
This week alone, NDOW said there has been a sharp increase in bear activity in the foothills and valleys of western Nevada, from Verdi and Reno to Topaz Ranch Estates in Douglas County and Yerington in Lyon County.
In recent days, at least five bears have been struck and killed by vehicles, another indication that they are on the move in search of food, NDOW spokesman Chris Healy said. The latest casualty was Saturday night in the Foothill Road area of Douglas County.
Game Warden Mike McCusker said the agency has four bear traps and all have been set out to capture bears that have gotten too comfortable around civilization.
“The goal is to trap these bears, perform aversion conditioning and release the bears, unharmed but chastised, back into the wild,” he said.
With aversion therapy, bears are shot with rubber bullets and chased by Karelian bear dogs when they are released. The idea is to make bears uncomfortable around people and alter their behavior.
The agency has used the tactic nearly 400 times since the late 1990s.