Denning up skinny, waking up hungry

Poor berry crop means bears denned up skinny and may have depleted fat stores, leading them to emerge from hibernation early

  • Mar. 9, 2016 7:00 a.m.

CAROLYN GRANT

It was an unusually warm February, and March is continuing in the same fashion.

Does this means bears will be emerging from hibernation early?

There has been some early bear activity in the Kootenays, both east and west, already this year, says Frank Ritcey, Provincial Coordinator of WildSafe BC, but the cause may not be warm weather.

“In general, bears do not come out early as a response to warm weather,” he said. “The bigger factor is how much fat they have. A bear with good fat stores will stay in hibernation longer.

“If the bear is skinnier and the fat reserve depleted, it will get up to find food.

“My theory is that we will see more bears early this year because they went into hibernation thinner, because of poor berry crops, among other things. However, there is nothing to prove that theory yet.”

There are reports of bear activity in the area, although none in Kimberley yet. In Cranbrook, a black bear was spotted on February 2 — that is quite early, Ritcey says.

In Fernie, there have been two bear sightings reported and one in Elkford on January 15.

“The thing is, with bears there are always some outliers, every winter the odd bear shows up. It could be because their den was disturbed; say a bear denned in a snowbank and someone walked over it.

“So far we are not seeing a pattern. There has been quite a bit of activity around Christina Lake and Grand Forks.”

However, Ritcey says it is definitely time to start thinking about attractants.

“You definitely don’t want a bear’s first meal after hibernation to be one you provided. I liken it to walking by a park bench and finding a $100 bill. You are going to check under that park bench every time you go by it. Bears are like that. If they get fed, they go back.

“We’re getting into spring. You want to take down your bird feeders, store your garbage safely, put pet food away. If you do feed your pet outside, make sure the food is put away after.”

Ritcey says that when bears first come out they are looking for fresh grass.

“Wherever you have grass greening up early, like on south-facing slopes, keep an eye out for bear sign. It’s time to start being cautious.”