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Unseasonable Warmth Waking Black Bears Up Early

Unseasonably mild winter is bringing black bears out of hibernation earlier than usual.

The daffodils and tulips are up and so are hungry black bears. Our unseasonably mild winter is bringing black bears out of hibernation earlier than usual.

"Everything seems to be a month ahead right now,” noted Rich Beausoleil, a bear and cougar specialist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We're already seeing some radio-collared bears emerge from their dens."

Wildlife biologists with Oregon's Department of Fish and Wildlife said they too are getting reports that bears are awake. Outdoorsmen have called in sightings of fresh tracks and scat. So far, the agency's field offices have not logged damage or nuisance complaints, which one biologist wrote could be because there is enough vegetation for the bears to eat.

Beausoleil said suburban and rural residents should be "bear aware." He said about 95 percent of the bear problems he responds to stem from the same three "attractants."

"I like to refer to them just because it is easy to remember as The Big Three,” Beausoleil said. “It's garbage, bird feeders and fruit trees."

His advice: Secure your garbage, take down bird feeders and clear away any lingering fruit. The wildlife biologist says black bears pose very little threat to humans as long as they don't associate you with food.

Washington's Department of Fish and Wildlife said it is getting reports of hungry bears on the prowl from the Olympic Peninsula to the eastern slopes of the Cascades.

"All the way into Yellowstone, researchers are also seeing bears emerging at some of the earliest dates that they have on record," Beausoleil said. "The warm weather is affecting this, but it doesn't explain everything."

Beausoleil said a bear -- especially in the backcountry -- that wakes up early and doesn't detect any food around may go back to sleep.

"With the nose that they have, being able to smell one to two miles away depending on wind conditions, they are going to come right at those unsecured food sources," Beausoleil observed.

He recommended taking trash cans to the curb in the morning of the garbage pick-up day rather than the night before. He also counseled against leaving pet food outdoors.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.