Video of hibernating bear in Viral Lake Tahoe is a wake-up call, but not because of climate change, expert says

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KGO) — A viral video of a Lake Tahoe bear waking up from mid-winter hibernation may be problematic, an expert says, but not for the reason many have speculated online.

The video shows a bear waking up, coming out of its den and looking around. As many of us learned in elementary school, this is a time when bears are supposed to hibernate and sleep through the winter.

Many online observers wondered if the milder-than-normal winter weather in Tahoe was to blame, possibly disrupting the bear’s biological clock.

But that behavior isn’t all that uncommon according to Ann Bryant, executive director of the Bear League in Tahoe, and it has nothing to do with the warmer weather.

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“Some of the bears don’t necessarily come out totally, they still come out sometimes on a nice day to roll in the snow and stretch. They don’t hibernate as deeply as squirrels. So it’s not unusual to come out and ride,” she explains.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that about 15% of Tahoe bears show some activity during the winter months, while most hibernate for 2-3 months.

But one thing that can disrupt bears’ hibernation habits has been exasperated by the pandemic: the presence of human food.

“What we don’t want is when they come out and smell a trash can or a bird feeder on the street and they start eating because they’re not going back to the den.”

According to Bryant, as more people settled permanently in Lake Tahoe during the pandemic, the bears had more access to human food because the new residents didn’t know as well how to protect their food. bears.

“It’s not about hiding your food, it’s about securing it so they can’t get to it. They know there’s food here because there’s people here. If our homes are secure lock our doors lock our windows don’t have food inside the car get a bear proof trash can then they can’t get food they will give up and go back to sleep and that’s the point. A lot of people don’t do that,” she explains.

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Bryant points out that if residents don’t take action on this problem, it can lead to bigger problems.

An example is a situation currently unfolding in South Lake Tahoe, where a bear has become dependent on human food. He is known for breaking into homes and garages in the Tahoe Keys neighborhood.

Jason Holley, a wildlife biologist overseeing the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said they tried to work with residents to properly secure their food and tried to move the bear, but it kept coming back .

So Holley says the department will have to euthanize the bear as a last resort.

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Holley says bears that aren’t “very usual” will be tagged, misted, and released into nearby habitat.

While the Bear League disagrees with this decision, one thing it agrees with the state on is that people need to know exactly what to do with their food items to avoid further disrupting bear behavior. .

“It’s the humans who move into bear habitat that change their behavior and their hibernation cycles, unfortunately. and what their actions are doing is damaging the animals that live here and that’s a shame,” Bryant says.

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