It is a common misconception that all bears hibernate in the winter. In the Sierra Nevada it does not get cold enough, and the winter is short here, so bears do not need to go to sleep all winter long. Hibernation is a form of energy conservation, as it causes the animal’s body temperature to drop, heart and respiratory rates to decrease, allowing bears to survive harsh winters without food by sleeping through them.
The brown bears in the Sierra Nevada go into a state called torpor. Their heart rate slows, but their body temperature stays high. They don’t ‘sleep’ nearly as deeply as bears in hibernation – they also don’t eat nor release bodily waste. To prepare for this slowing down process, bears in the fall are voracious eaters. In order to fatten up they need to consume about 11 pounds of acorns or 100 pounds of berries – EVERY DAY!
Since finding food can be an all-consuming job, many bears are attracted to easier food sources like human food. If your food isn’t properly stored, with their keen sense of smell, bears will find it! This means your food, trash, even Halloween pumpkins aren’t safe this time of year. Make sure to use secure Bear Boxes, close trash receptacles tightly, do not leave food in cars or personal gear, and keep doors and windows locked to discourage the curious, hungry critters. Compost piles, bird feeders, pet food and any other food items left out can be very inviting – and animals who begin to associate food with humans can become dangerous, to both people and themselves.
Remember that here in the mountains and foothills, wild animals still roam. These are not zoo animals nor personal pets – they are wild and need to be respected and LEFT ALONE. Do not try to get a selfie with a bear, nor come between a mama and her cubs. By being mindful of our surroundings and the creatures who live here, we can keep them wild – and stay safe. Be BEAR AWARE!