FROM: Crowsnest Conservation WildED
How do you wake up every day? Chipper and sunny, ready to tackle any task after breakfast? Or do you stumble your way to the coffeemaker and wake up slowly, not ready to even think about eating until around 10am?
Bears will typically emerge from winter hibernation in April and May, with timing dependent on factors such as age, sex, fat reserves, snow cover, day length, etc. But contrary to popular opinion, emerging bears don’t promptly start looking for a snack or a drink. Rather they often start looking for a suitable napping spot! Despite the fact bears may lose 15 to 30 percent of their body weight over the winter months (and up to 40 percent for females with cubs), newly emerged bears are generally lethargic and spend much time resting.
This state of walking hibernation lasts two to three weeks as bears continue to live primarily off their fat reserves while their metabolism ramps. The period of greatest nutritional stress may be one to two months after den emergence when energy demands have returned to normal but food availability has not yet peaked. Individuals that only acquired marginal reserves in the fall (e.g., some yearlings and subadults) are most vulnerable during this spring period.
Residual snow on mountain slopes during April and May concentrate bears into greener habitats along valley bottoms where they seek new and easily digestible vegetation, particularly shoots, roots, bulbs, and flowers. Favored spring foods include new grasses, clover, leaves, dandelions, and skunk cabbage. A winter-killed carcass melting out of the snow can rarely be resisted either.
This period of high elevation snowpack-high energy requirements-low natural food availability represents a period of higher conflict with human values as bears venturing closer to farmyards and valley-bottom communities may encounter unnatural meal options (e.g., improperly stored garbage, compost, birdseed, pet food, newly-born livestock).
Just as a teenager may hit the snooze button several times before rousing fully to eat everything in sight, our local bears follow the same pattern in spring. While keeping healthy food within easy access is wise when faced with a growing teen, bear attractants should be appropriately secured to ensure you don’t face an unexpected ursine visitor.
More information on attractants and proper management can be found at www.bearsmart.alberta.ca. If you lack secure storage for your garbage and wish to borrow a loaner bin, contact Crowsnest Conservation WildED at 403-753-2040.