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Bears close to coming out of hibernation

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. -- If these warm temperatures have you itching to get outside and enjoy the sunshine and spring like weather, you are not alone. Believe it or not, it is that time of year when bears are beginning to come out of hibernation.

With this year's winter being as dry as it was, wildlife officials are predicting a active bear season. As the bears wake up, it is important to become bear aware.

Spring-like weather means a lot will be changing outside, including a lot more bear sightings. Nevada Department of Wildlife Spokesperson Chris Healy said mid-march is when bears wake up from hibernation and begin to look for food. "The first bears that emerge are always the younger male bears or the female bears that did not have cubs in the den in this past year."

Every bear wakes up hungry, but not all of them know the best place to find their next meal. "The garbage bears are going to be centering in on human sources of food. That sometimes means garbage, and in some cases, that can actually mean people deliberately feeding them."

Black bears live in the Tahoe basin and Sierra foothills, and eat natural foods. But after a dry winter, Healy said those foods can be hard to come by. "Because we've had a dry year, our biggest worry is that the natural foods have not developed in the backcountry in the way that they should."

"We're really trying to put the warning out there now," Healy added. "To let people know, don't feed the bears either deliberately or inadvertently because it's the bears who pay the uiltmate price when that happens."

That ultimate price is having to euthanize a bear that becomes a danger to public safety. It is a drastic measure that's a last resort for wildlife officials. "We don't want to have to do that, but if people don't call us ahead of time when they see a bear that's getting into trouble, and they keep that to themselves and they don't let us know, it becomes dangerous behavior."

Healy emphasizes that it is illegal to feed bears or any other big game animal. If you see someone feeding bears or doing anything that may put the animals in danger, you can call N-DOW's Operation Game Thief hotline at 1-800-992-3030. You will remain anonymous.