Heavenly bear raises larger concerns for all Tahoe bears

Experts worry the drought and warm weather could be disrupting bears' natural hibernation cycle. (Heavenly Mountain Resort)
March 4, 2014 9:23:36 PM PST
A young bear found wandering the ski slopes at Heavenly is now expected to make a full recovery. But it's raising concern among wildlife experts. This time of year, the bear should've been sleeping. But now, experts worry the drought and the warm weather could be disrupting that natural cycle and it could mean a lot more bear sightings before the year is over.

Heavenly the bear is now snoozing peacefully. You can watch him on a webcam, but you won't see much, except when the vet goes to check on him.

"He has a great prognosis, they think he'll heal fully," Bear League Executive Director Ann Bryant said. "He's too thin and the wounds have to heal; he's on a special diet right now and he's on antibiotics and painkillers."

Bryant says the bear is supposed to be drowsy this time of year. But not long ago, that little bear was awake and frolicking on the ski slopes.

It turns out a hibernating bear is a pretty light sleeper.

"He rolls around, he snores, he sometimes gets up and stretches, he's moving," Bryant said.

Bryant says nature has an answer for that.

"Normally, a bear will go into a den and then the snow will cover up the entrance and buffer him in and soundproof him," she said. "Keep him dark and keep him quiet.

As long as there is snow. This year, there was hardly any.

"The openings to their dens are just open to the world, open to the sky and the sounds," Bryant said.

That, she says, starts a troubling chain reaction. Bears sleep in the winter because there's hardly any food. If they wake up early, they think it's springtime and they get hungry but there's no green on the ground and no berries on the trees.

"They come where they know there's food; and that's in our neighborhoods and in our homes," Bryant said.

Now, in the midst of a drought and an unseasonably warm winter, Bryant says Lake Tahoe should brace for more thin, hungry and thirsty bears lumbering into town.

"They're going to be coming down more and crossing through our neighborhoods to get to the lake, which pretty soon will be the only source of water that's available to them," Bryant said.

But she says you can help. If a bear wakes up early, there's still a chance he'll go back to hibernating -- as long as he doesn't eat.

"The unfortunate thing is if someone has accidentally left their garbage accessible, once he comes out and starts eating, then he's up," Bryant said.

If it gets bad enough, the Bear League says they'll work with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to put food way out in the woods to lure bears aware from the neighborhoods.

As for Heavenly the bear, he's about 30 pounds underweight right now. But once they fatten him up, they'll take him back into the woods and set him free.

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