It’s time for Nevada’s black bears to start gorging themselves to prepare for winter hibernation, and wildlife agencies are warning residents to lock up their garbage and other attractants.
“Hyperphagia is a period where bears eat as much as they possibly can so they can put on as much fat as possible to carry them through winter hibernation,” Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist Carl Lackey said in a statement Aug. 16. “Nothing much gets in the bear’s way when they are this hungry.”
Bears’ appetites are triggered by natural queues, like temperature and light. During a full moon, bears will extend their eating to up to 20 hours per day.
During hyperphagia, the animals can consume 25,000 calories — the equivalent of about 45 Big Macs — every day. But finding natural sources of that much food may be difficult because of dry conditions the past two winters.
“Plants that create nuts and berries like manzanita, squirrel tail, snowbush, desert peach and rosehips are highly desired but not always abundant in dry years,” Lackey said. “It will be a busy next three months in bear country.”
This year so far has been about average for the Bear League, said executive director Ann Bryant. Activity picks up when bears begin to enter hyperphagia, she said.
“We have a lot more sightings,” Bryant said. “They’re foraging so many more hours per day that they’re out in the daylight hours quite a bit more.”
Though a lot of the sightings are just bears passing through neighborhoods to get to food sources, the Bear League has had calls for bears seeking food in garbage cans, dumpsters and bird feeders, Bryant said. South Lake Tahoe has been one of the hot spots, she added.
“You can pretty much put your finger right on it,” Bryant said. “Where you know you’re going to have problems is wherever people aren’t responsible with their garbage.”
Residents should secure their garbage, make sure doors and windows are locked when they’re away from their houses, and take down their bird feeders, Bryant said. Now’s the time to close the crawl space too, she said. Bears are also scouting out places to spend the winter.
“Make sure that it is securely tightened up,” Bryant said. “You’ve got think about the strength of a bear and how easy it is for them to break in. We run around all winter long removing bears from underneath houses while they’re sleeping and throwing them out in the cold because people forgot to lock up their crawl spaces.”