A bear and a cub cross a road in Yosemite National Park in August 2013, a sight being repeated during the warm winter of 2013/2014. With winter conditions hardly wintry this year, some bears are finding little reason to hibernate. Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

By Kurtis Alexander
20 January 2014

(San Franciso Chronicle) – The black bears of the high Sierra are normally curled up in caves in January, enjoying long winter naps.

But with winter conditions hardly wintry this year, some bears are finding little reason to hibernate and are instead traipsing around like it's the middle of August.

Mountain residents and visitors have been startled by unexpected encounters with the giants, and wildlife managers from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite National Park are cautioning folks about bear activity. Increased interaction between man and beast can lead to problems.

This month, skiers at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe were stopped in their tracks by a bear scampering across a ski slope, a scene that was caught on video and spread across the Internet. Fortunately, the bear scurried off without incident.

On the north side of the lake, a 260-pound male bear broke into several cars last month and at least one home. He was deemed a threat to public safety, prompting wildlife managers to put the animal down. An Incline Village woman was given Nevada's first written warning for feeding the bear, authorities said.

The effects of the mild winter go further than bears, biologists say. All kinds of critters act differently during drought times, particularly if the dry weather extends through spring and causes food and water shortages, which can push animals beyond their normal range in search of sustenance. […]

The mild conditions mean more bears are awake than usual, and wildlife managers worry the problem is just beginning. Should the dry weather continue, it could upset the Sierra food chain - for example, limiting the amount of berries or insects for bears to feed on - and force the hungry animals into town.

"A drought basically dries up the natural food availability and dries up the water sources, and you get them not only wandering farther, but often coming to urban areas to fulfill their daily needs," explained Jason Holley, wildlife biologist supervisor for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "We've seen upticks in drought years. We could be looking at that in the spring."

The same can be said of other critters: deer, coyotes, bobcats. [more]

Sierra's bears wide-awake during warm winter



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