Sierra black bears wake after quiet winter
Sierra black bears have been quiet this winter, but they’ll start turning up hungry after waking up from a long winter nap.
“As I was coming down Kingsbury, I saw some very fresh bear tracks,” Nevada Department of Wildlife Human-Bear Conflict Specialist Heather Reich said. “It’s about mid-March when the males start coming out.”
Reich said she only received one bear call over the winter in Cold Springs, well away from Carson Valley.
Sierra bears took to their dens this winter, but Reich said that wasn’t the case further east.
“While our Sierra bears all denned as normal, bears in the Pine Nuts didn’t,” she said. “There was not a lot of snow out east, and the Pine Nuts had food available, so they didn’t feel the need to den.”
Last year’s record winter contributed to the food available in the wild, which reduced the incidents of bear raids in Carson Valley.
But many Valley locations are starting to green, bringing bears out looking for something to eat.
“Typically they come out of their den and drop down into the valleys, where all the green up is happening,” Reich said. “Fresh grass is high in sugar content. As the snow melts, they follow the green up the mountain.”
She said after they visit the Valley in spring, bears tend to stay in the mountains through summer and then return in the fall to put on fat for the winter hibernation.
“The fresh grass is high in sugar content,” she said. “It’s so high in calories. Everybody loves the fresh green grass in the spring.”
She said the bears will also work on any carcasses of animals that died in the winter.
“They are a good clean-up crew,” she said.
But bears won’t limit themselves to grass and dead deer.
“People need to start getting their minds in gear for the bears,” she said. “Things like getting bear proof containers, and taking bird feeders in at night.”
She suggested people who throw seed out from birds spread it out, so it’s more difficult for the bears.
The increasing popularity of backyard chickens has created a new food source for bears.
“We are really trying to spread the word on electric fencing,” she said. “I will go out and look at people’s property and show them how to set up an electric fence. Electric is so easy and effective.”
She said electric mats for under doors and windows, or anywhere a bear might climb into a house are a good prevention technique.
Bear resistant garbage cans are a good way to keep bears out of the trash.
“If we could wave a magic wand and get everyone to use a bear-resistant container, our bear conflicts would drop significantly,” she said. “The first step in bears being food conditioned is garbage. If we could stop that, it would make our lives so much easier.”
Dogs are another deterrent for bears, which is why bear conflict folks at the Nevada Department of Wildlife use Karelian bear dogs.
“They have a natural fear of dogs,” she said. “The only predator against a bear is a wolf, bears are very reactive to dogs. It’s one of the reasons our program works so well.”
Douglas was one of the first Nevada counties to extend a bear garbage ordinance into the valley areas. A homeowner who has bears get into their garbage too often may be required to purchase a bear-proof container.