Grizzlies in Yellowstone Are Already Waking Up

Warm weather has drawn at least one bear out of hibernation and in search of food

Tom Murphy/National Geographic Creative/Corbis

The Northeast may be struggling under a thick cover of snow and with subzero temperatures, but the West has been setting warm weather records — making this winter overall the country’s sixth warmest so far. In the Rocky Mountains, the weather has been so unusual that it feels like spring already. In fact, the grizzly bears of Yellowstone National Park are waking up early. 

The first bear was spotted February 9, "gorging on a bison carcass in the middle section of the park," reports Ted Alvarez for Grist. “I look back at the past half dozen years, and we’ll have a first confirmed report in the first week, two weeks of March — so this is earlier than normal,” Yellowstone spokesperson Al Nash told Grist. “It’s certainly an indicator, but it’s not necessarily a rush of bears leaving their dens. If there’s one, though, it’s safe to assume that there will be others.”

Bears hibernate to get through the lean times of winter. The park’s record low temperature was -66°F, but typically the day’s high only reaches 20°F and winter nights are at least subzero. Most food is covered in snow. Nash usually surveys the park for the carcasses of deer, elk and bison who have succumbed to winter’s ravages, likely sites for the first bear of the season. But this year the early bear got the bison before the survey. As Grist notes, bears are always hungry and eager to eat any food source they find.

But while temperatures have been relatively warm recently, snow storms and cold temperatures could sweep in again. While bears in Yellowstone have been recovering — nearly 600 now live in the greater ecosystem — experts contend that their isolation keeps them vulnerable. Confusion about the seasons won’t help.

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