Reminder to be aware and prepared as bears emerge from hibernation
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: April 22, 2020

HELENA, Montana (April 20, 2020) – The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest is home to both black and grizzly bears, and provides important habitat for bears and other wildlife to use throughout the year and it is important to be bear aware and wary with both species.  Learning about bears will help you become a more knowledgeable visitor to the forest, and will help keep both you and bears safe while sharing the woods.  As bears start to move around more it is important to be prepared, stay alert and carry bear spray.  Remember to practice attractant storage both at home and on public lands.  It is important to remove trash, animal remains and put away bird feeders, before bears come looking for food sources near human habitation.  As people start to enjoy the warmer weather and get outside, remember all wildlife is doing the same.  Be especially cautious in areas where visibility is low, such as in thick brush or near water sources.  Remember bear spray is effective towards other animals such as moose and mountain lions.

Bears generally enter dens from late October through early December. Pregnant females usually enter dens first, followed by females with young, subadults, and lastly, adult males. Likewise, males emerge first, usually beginning in March. Males den for 131 days on average, followed by lone females or females with older young. Females with newborn cubs are the last to emerge, usually from mid-April to early May. The cubs are born in the den around January, weigh less than a pound and are awake all winter in order to nurse. In the spring, females with newborn cubs may remain near the den for several weeks after emergence before leaving the area.

Despite not eating for some five months, bears aren’t ravenous when they emerge from hibernation. They undergo physiological changes when they emerge adjusting from their time in a limited physiological state. As their body temperature, heart rate and metabolism return to normal, they move slowly, scavenge and sometimes return to their dens.  As they search for food, they will often descend to lower elevations where carcasses and newly growing vegetation provide easier food sources.

Females with sub-adult cubs, cubs usually 2 years of age, will displace their offspring to prepare for mating again in June.  It is often sub-adult cubs who are unfamiliar with foraging on their own who will seek easy food sources and be unprepared for encounters with human being.  However, any bear may be uncertain how to react to human presence and take advantage of all the food to be found near people.

Black bears are especially adept at finding food near human areas since maybe people tend to believe them harmless.  If people allow bears to eat out of their bird feeders, be watched out the window or to find unsecured attractants, they become habituated to people and may become predatory and dangerous.  It is important to apply all bear safety tips to both species of bears and remind bears to respect human space.

For more information on bear safety and to check out the latest on the Food Storage Orders while on the Forest at https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/hlcnf/home/?cid=fseprd582844.  For additional questions contact Sara Sylte, Bear Education Specialist at sara.sylte@usda.gov.