Natural Perspective — Bear in Mind

Nov. 13, 2019 — Winter is approaching, and wildlife are preparing for the season. While most of these preparations proceed without much notice from us, they sometimes encroach into our lives. Bears, for instance, busy bulking up for winter, have been quite active recently around Florence.

Our local bears, and any throughout Oregon these days, are black bears; the state’s last official sighting of their larger cousin, the grizzly, was in the 1930s. Despite their fearsome-looking teeth, black bears are typically omnivorous, with plants making up a large part of their diet. Their love of berries makes black bears key players in forest ecology as they disperse seeds throughout the woods in their droppings.

Any mention of bears and winter brings to mind hibernation, yet scientists have debated whether the bears’ dormancy period is really hibernation. Unlike so-called true hibernators, such as squirrels, bears do not show extreme drops in body temperature during dormancy. By maintaining near-normal temperatures, bears can rouse more readily to deal with potential threats. Dormant bears do, however, undergo other physiological changes, including decreasing their heart rate to as few as 8 beats per minute, which has led scientists to conclude that bears indeed hibernate; they simply use a different strategy than many smaller hibernators.

For female bears, winter is an important period for reproduction. While black bears mate in summer, fertilized eggs don’t immediately implant within the uterus; instead, the embryo’s development is put on hold until about November. Gaining weight for winter is, therefore, doubly important for females as their bodies will be supporting developing young.

Cubs are born in the den during January or February and emerge in spring with their mother, who will keep a protective eye on them for around 17 months.

Generally, black bears are less aggressive than grizzlies and don’t go out of their way to attack humans; however, like any wild animal, they will defend themselves if threatened, and bear encounters should be taken seriously.

Many of the conflicts that do occur between humans and bears are driven by human activities. For bears, residential areas make great fast food joints. Why search for berries in the woods when there’s a buffet to be had in someone’s garbage bin?

Seeing a bear is a neat experience, but they’re not critters you want to attract to your yard as regular visitors. So, to minimize conflicts with our furry neighbors, keep trash and other food sources secure. Bear this in mind, and you’ll be doing everyone a favor.


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