Dry summer may mean early hibernation for area bears
Mike Lawrence - Staff Writer
Given the warmer fall temperatures this year one might expect our local bear population to put off hibernation until later in the season, but according to the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, this might not be the case.
As Morgan Kerekes, Media and Issues Advisor for the Ministry explains, it’s more about food than temperatures. “Bears start to prepare and enter dens in mid-October on average. Den entry is influenced by length of daylight, snow cover and availability of food. Of these, availability of food is the greatest factor; in years of poor natural foods, bears will enter dens earlier than normal, in years of abundant natural foods such as mountain ash, oak acorns and beechnuts, bears may stay active late into the fall.”
Local residents reported a lower than typical berry crop this summer and Kerekes confirmed, “Natural foods in the Northwestern Ontario region were below average this year. The extended period of drought in the spring and summer has impacted the availability of natural food sources for bears.
As Kerekes points out, the availability of human sources of food could also affect a bear’s hibernation cycle, stating, “Bears that have access to non-natural human foods such as garbage or bird feeders, may stay out later than normal as long as those food sources persist.”
So, what does a less than ideal food crop this year mean for emerging bears come next spring? Kerekes says hibernation survival might not be affected, but other factors may come into play. “Generally, even bears that enter dens in poor condition will survive hibernation, but it is the following spring after den emergence, when there is a general lack of natural foods, that some bears may succumb to starvation. These are typically younger, inexperienced bears or bears that have other underlying health conditions.”
According to information found on the Province of Ontario’s Bear Wise website (https://bit.ly/3DGFE5Y) Sioux Lookout is located in one of the densest Black Bear population zones in Northern Ontario, with a mean density of 28 bears per 100 square kilometers.
The Bear Wise website points out that bears are attracted to strong food aromas, the scent of garbage, cooking smells, ripe fruits, and pet food left outside. They offer some tips to reduce the risk of attracting bears that include: Put garbage out on the morning of garbage day, not the night before, only fill bird feeders during winter months, keep barbeques clean and free of food waste, pick any ripe and fallen fruit from trees on your property, do not leave pet food outdoors, and leash dogs while in bear country to reduce the potential of dogs harassing a bear, or attracting one.
People can visit the Bear Wise website for more tips and information on dealing with bear encounters and for ways to avoid attracting bears into the community.