Bears’ internal alarm clocks start ringing in March, with many adult male bears already emerging or emerging soon from their dens. Next to wake up will be juveniles of both sexes, then female bears with yearlings and solitary females.
Mother bears with newborn cubs are the last to awaken. After not eating or drinking for several months, it’s time for water, stretching and wandering around. Soon after getting their bearings, bears start looking for food.
Some black bears leave their dens to walk around, stretch their legs and then go back to sleep. Other bears leave dens for good. Bears emerge skinny, groggy and thirsty and soon go looking for roughage.
Bears that denned up in poor condition and survived the winter may also leave their dens. Why would a bear den up in poor condition? It might be injured, or a freeze or wildfire damaged acorns and berries and made it tough to pack on the pounds needed to stay healthy all winter.
Skinnier, groggy & thirsty
Bears can lose more than 30 percent of their body weight over the long winter’s fast, but most bears emerge drowsy and lethargic and spend their first few days drinking lots of water, eating snow if there is no water available, before starting to search for food. It’s not uncommon for bears to continue to lose weight the first few weeks they emerge from hibernation.
Bears will soon be nibbling on plants that provide some roughage and help clear their kidneys and digestive system (what people think of as fiber, and for the same reason). Bears eat lightly at first and look for old berries, rose hips and acorns along with winterkill carcasses.
Eventually bears will go in search of more substantial meals, so now is a good time to make sure anything around your home and property that could possibly attract a hungry bear is stored out of sight, smell and reach.
Stash food, trash
Residents and visitors can help keep bears wild and reduce conflicts between bears and humans by following these tips from the BEAR League and California Department of Fish & Wildlife:
- Safely dispose of garbage.
- Remove bird feeders.
- Store pet food in secure locations.
- Put up electric fences around chicken coops and beehives.
- At campgrounds, store food in bear-resistant containers (storage lockers/bear boxes), dispose of garbage in Dumpsters and close and lock these containers or risk fines, jail time or both.
- Both California and Nevada law prohibits the feeding of any big game mammal.
- All counties in Nevada that border Lake Tahoe have ordinances in place that prohibit residents and visitors from allowing wildlife access to garbage. Citations and fines can be issued for code violations.
- Never feed wildlife. This encourages unnatural and harmful foraging behavior.
- Never leave groceries, animal feed or anything scented in vehicles. Bears can open vehicle doors and they may cause damage trying to gain entrance if there are scented items inside.
- Keep barbecue grills clean and stored in a garage or shed when not in use.
- Keep doors and windows closed and locked when the home is unoccupied.
- Vegetable gardens, compost piles, orchards and chickens may attract bears. Use electric fences where allowed to keep bears out.
- If those who live in neighborhoods with bear activity, residents might consider using electric doormats and/or electric fencing on windows and/or doors where allowed. Electrified windows and doors should have signs posted for safety and to alert the public and emergency personnel.
- If a bear enters a home when you are present, keep out of its way and do not block its escape route.
- 24-hour hotline | (530) 525-7297 (BEAR League)
- Emergencies | 911 (a bear in your yard is not an emergency; only if they are trying to enter your home)
- Attract birds, not bears info | bit.ly/birds_not_bears
- Bear Aware Guide for Homeowner & Renters | bit.ly/bear_home_guide
- Bear & Dog Conflicts | bit.ly/bear_and_dogs
- BEAR League | savebears.org
- BearWise | bearwise.org
- BearWise Home Checklist | bit.ly/bear_checklist
- Calif. Fish & Wildlife | keepmewild.org
- Nevada Dept. of Wildlife | ndow.org
- Report trash issues (list of local contacts) | bit.ly/tahoe_trash
Bear Box programs
- City of South Lake Tahoe, Douglas & El Dorado counties | southtahoerefuse.com
- Placer County | waste101.com
- Washoe County | washoecounty.wm.com