It’s been a warm, dry winter in South Lake Tahoe. But a bear out on the ski slopes in mid-January?
That’s what happened Friday when a black bear ambled across the World Cup run at Heavenly Mountain Resort during the Far West Masters race.
Skiers took a brief pause to let the bruin cross the slope without incident and disappear into the woods on the other side.
“We’re used to dry winters, but this one is almost historically dry,” said Chris Healy, public information officer for the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
“When we’ve had open winters like this in the Tahoe Basin, we’ve had instances where bears either don’t hibernate or hibernate partially.”
Some bears out this time of year are what the department calls “urban interface” bears. They won’t hibernate if they have easy access to food made available by people, Healy said.
Nevada Department of Wildlife has documented bears that wake up on garbage collection days, go out and raid cans, put some food in their stomachs and then return to their dens to go back to sleep.
With such a mild winter, there might be some natural food around for bears to scrounge up in the wild this time of year. But the best thing people can do for both themselves and for the bears is not feed them, Healy said.
“If it’s a wild land bear, for the most part they’re hibernating. It’s these bears acclimated to human activity, they’re the ones that seem to be awake this time of year,” Healy said. “One of the best things we could have happen here is to get a nice big snow storm to keep them down a while.”
Cheryl Millham, of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, said bears are not in a real deep sleep right now because of the weather.
A week ago, a tourist on the South Shore was letting his dog run loose when it found a bear sleeping under an empty house and harassed it. The bear woke up came out after the dog.
“They’re not out and about unless they’re disturbed, or if the weather stays the way it is they’ll come out and raise some garbage cans,” Millham said. “That’s why people still need to take care of their bird feeders and their garbage and follow the laws on dogs.”