More bears means more chances at sightings, even in winter

More bears means more chances at sightings, even in winter

Let a sleeping bear lie, says wildlife biologist Charlie Brown, of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. More bears will be hibernating in Rhode Island, particularly in less populated areas, this winter.

With the black bear population on the rise, Rhode Island is home to one species of bear, the black bear, said Brown.

Black bears hibernate from Nov. 1 to April 1, Brown said. But, that does not mean bears may not wake up and wander around during unusually warm days, he said.

Contrary to popular belief, Brown said black bears do not solely hibernate in caves. Black bears will choose any location protected from the weather to hibernate, including hollow trees, a rock crevasse, under the porches of houses, under brush piles, even in a depression in the ground.

“It’s not really very elaborate or anything, just anything that gets them out of the weather,” he said.

Brown does not recommend attempting to take a selfie with the sleeping bear. Unlike “true hibernators,” such as a chipmunk or woodchuck, black bears wake up easily.

Black bears typically being shy, if woken the bear will most likely run away, he said. Still, he said a situation with a running bear is not ideal. Though he said bears are not built for hunting or ambushing, it is not unheard of for one to attack.

Black bears spend the winter sleeping out of necessity. Brown said there simply is not enough food available during the winter, so bears will reach peak weight in the fall, and then survive off the stored fat until the spring while in a resting state.

Most often, male bears will take a stroll mid-hibernation before returning to a winter slumber, Brown said. He said the RIDEM receives reports of bear sighting throughout the winter, usually during warm periods.

Most bear sightings in back yards and around town are of those adolescent male cubs “bouncing around” until they’ve established a territory.

Living with bears is fairly new to modern Rhode Islanders, Brown said. At the turn of the century, the bear population was nearly extinguished due to overhunting and deforestation.

He said the black bear population has been on the rise for the past decade or so, which is why more sightings have occurred in the state over the past few years. He said conservation efforts and larger forestland have caused the population growth.

As omnivores, black bears eat a variety of plants and meats. Usually, they stick to nuts, berries, and grubs and will eat meat when the opportunity arises.

People in northern New England, such as New Hampshire, are used to pulling in bird feeders and securing waste bins in April when bears emerge from hibernation. In Rhode Island, the RIDEM is sending out information to residents about how to avoid attracting bears to their homes, including not encouraging the animals to approach their homes for food.