Warmer Temperatures Delay Bear Hibernation

Winter has been late in coming, this year. Temperatures are only now starting to get to levels near the seasonal norms. While that has meant extra time to split wood and change vehicle tires, it has also meant that bears have been active later in the year than usual.

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Early Tuesday morning, Talkeetna resident Ed Craver was awoken by his dog, Kusko, who was apparently having a bad dream. Ed managed to calm Kusko down and get him back to sleep.

“Then, half an hour later, I had just dropped back into sleep and I heard him growling. If you know my dog, he’s a ferocious beast.”

Kusko weighs less than twenty-five pounds.

“So, he kept growling and I got up and turned the yard light on, and there was a big, blond grizzly sitting on my little porch.”

Ed banged on his metal door and tried to make as much noise as he could, but the bear, which Ed estimates at six to seven feet long, only moved a few feet off the porch. That’s when Ed decided to retrieve his shotgun. He opened the door and the bear started toward him.

“So, I am obviously a little conflicted about what I should do. I know, if I close the door, that would just simply aggravate him even more, and I would have a bear in my house.”

Ed decided to shoot at the ground ahead of the adult grizzly. Between the bright flash of the gunpowder and the boom of the shotgun, the bear decided it was time to go elsewhere. Ed says it is the second time a bear, possibly the same one, has been around his house since the beginning of November.

He says that, in forty years living in Talkeetna, he’s never seen a bear this late in the year. Ed is not alone in spotting late-roaming grizzlies. At least two other listeners have contacted KTNA to say they have seen bears roaming near the Talkeetna Spur Road. Ed’s concern is that hungry bears roaming later than normal could pose a significant risk to people in town, especially children.

“I just…have shivers when I think about the prospects of a small kid out playing in the yard or something, and then suddenly comes upon a bear, then decides he needs to run away.”

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is aware of the impact that the long autumn is having on bears. Todd Rinaldi, a wildlife biologist with Fish and Game, says there have been significant effects on when bears are deciding to hibernate.

“There are a bunch of factors that dictate when bears go into hibernation: weather, the amount of light, snowfall, but one of the biggest factors is their ability to acquire energy and to continue to feed throughout the fall. When those food sources go away or become unavailable, that’s their final trigger to go into hibernation.”

With fewer fish in the rivers, and the berry crop all but gone for the year, bears are looking more and more to trash cans and other human-created food sources. Todd Rinaldi says that it’s still too early for people to relax on bear awareness.

“It’s a really important time of year for residents to secure their garbage, secure their dog food, or to make sure that the electric fences are working around their livestock to prevent bears from getting into chickens and things like that. One of the things the Department recommends is to hold off on putting out bird feeders until even later in the month, so that those food sources are not available as well.”

Todd Rinaldi says that bears aren’t the only wildlife being affected by the late arrival of winter. Moose along the road can be harder to see without a blanket of white to contrast against, wolves have a harder time catching prey, and many small animals that use snow for insulation or camouflage will be at a disadvantage until snow flies. As for the bears, he says as long as they can find food, they’ll likely hang around.