With plants starting to break their long winter dormancy, wildlife will soon be doing the same. Black bears that live in south-central Idaho and other parts of the state are waking up—and they will be very hungry, according to Fish and Game officials.
After spending the winter months burning their fat reserves hibernating, black bears will immediately start looking for food, mostly spring grasses, but pretty much anything that can provide easy calories, Fish and Game’s Magic Valley Field Office said in a statement on Monday. During hibernation, boars (male) black bears usually lose 15-30% of their body weight, while sows with cubs can lose up to 40%. After emerging from hibernation, black bears are on a quest to eat between 15,000-20,000 calories a day to build up their fat reserves, which means they are constantly searching for food.
After leaving their winter dens, bears begin to search out food sources by using their extremely keen sense of smell. In fact, it is believed that a bear’s sense of smell is seven times better than a bloodhound’s and is often measured in miles.
As omnivores—meaning they eat both plants and meat—bears will eat anything they can find. And with that keen sense of smell, a bear will find just about anything. This can be a problem for bears and for managers of wildlife. Using their sense of smell, bears might be attracted to your neighborhood looking for a food reward, which too often is that leftover food now fermenting in the garbage can.
It’s not too early for all Wood River Valley and other Idaho residents to do their part to ensure that bears, as well as other wildlife, do not become food-conditioned by finding food rewards around homes, Fish and Game emphasized.
Securing garbage is the key to keeping bears wild
“The safety of Wood River Valley residents and visitors will always be the primary concern for Fish and Game when dealing with food-conditioned bears,” stated Terry Thompson, spokesman for Fish and Game’s Magic Valley Regional Office. “Wood River Valley residents pride themselves on living in close proximity to wildlife. However, that also means everyone shares the responsibility to keep wildlife wild. Allowing bears to become comfortable living in your neighborhood could be a death sentence for the bear.”
Relocation of a food-conditioned bear is not an option, Thompson said. Often, a bear returns to where it was trapped because it knows there is a food reward waiting for it.
“Moving this bear might also just transfer the problem to another community or campground in the backcountry,” he said.
When a bear learns that walking across a yard or deck is OK, it will continue that behavior, Thompson said. If residents do nothing, bears learn that people are harmless and that taking daily walks around houses is both acceptable and potentially rewarding if they find food.
If it can be done safely, Fish and Game asks you to take immediate action to haze the bear to let it know it is not welcome around your house or in your neighborhood. This can be done by loud yelling, clapping hands or banging on pots and pans.
There are a few simple things everyone can do to keep everyone safe and bears roaming the mountains where they belong, according to Fish and Game:
Secure household garbage in a garage or locked shed where bears cannot gain access to the garbage.
Don’t put your garbage curbside until the morning of pickup.
Birds don’t actually need bird feeders to survive during the summer months due to an abundance of natural food sources, Thompson said. A bird bath is an effective way to attract birds to a backyard. Residents are encouraged to take feeders down during this time. Bears can get a tremendous amount of calories from bird feeders, such as a 2,500-calorie reward from one pound of black oil sunflower seed, or 3,200-calorie reward from 32 ounces of hummingbird food.
Don’t leave pet or livestock food outside where a bear can find it.
Put electric fence wire around chicken coops and beehives.
For more information, please contact the Magic Valley Regional Office at 208- 324-4359 or your nearest Idaho Department of Fish and Game office. ￼
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