Bear activity in winter is rare, but still not surprising, prompting the U.S. Forest Service to remind everyone visiting Alaska’s national forests to be bear aware.
“Bear hibernation is not true hibernation, it’s torpor,” said Reese Brand Phillips, the regional wildlife program lead in the Forest Service Alaska Region. “Think of it as light sleep which can be disturbed. Remember that bear activity can happen anytime, so we need to readjust how we think and recreate in the winter.”
There are several factors determining when bears start denning and when they emerge from their dens in the spring, including weather, temperature and food resources, he said.
“If it was a bad berry year or the salmon runs were bad, the bears may go into their dens early, but then again, if they did not put on enough body fat, they may come out of hibernation early as well,” he said.
Some research indicates that as the climate changes and there are warmer temperatures, the timing of denning and hibernation is changing too, he said.
Those visiting Chugach and Tongass National Forests should always have bear spray readily available, keep dogs on leashes and travel in groups when possible he said. Human visitors should also keep their trash bins secured and avoid surprising bears by making their presence known, he said.