Bear hibernation affected by strange winter weather

By BECKY HATTERSLEY/Montana State News

Shortened hibernation periods for both grizzly and black bears could lead to bears gravitating towards developed areas, according to experts.

Kevin Frey, a grizzly bear specialist for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, said weather plays into bear hibernation patterns and that bears are usually in their dens from around mid-November through March; however, with warmer temperatures, bears are likely to “stay out a while longer, day-bed and stumble around.”

Frey notes, “This year we had bears (black and grizzly) that were still up in December.”

January marked the seventh consecutive month with temperatures averaging above normal, according to the NOAA Montana Weather/Precipitation Summary. The state averaged 5.4 degrees above normal for January and 3.5 degrees above normal for the period of time from October to January, making it the warmest fall to winter season on record in the last seven years.  Snowfall followed suit, with January averages 1.7 inches below normal for the state and only 43 percent of normal for Bozeman.

“If it remains relatively mild temps and no snow, the bears denned on the ‘front’ may wake early this year and search for food,” Frey said.

He said that while it is not unusual for bears to wake up mid winter, they usually “walk around and go back to their dens.” However, bears that are in poor condition may search for food, and this year, the “winter’s conditions may show a difference in body fat percentage they carry through the entire new year.”

“They may gravitate towards developed areas” in their search for food said Frey. “That does not work out so well”.

Edited by Matt York.

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