In early February, snowmobilers in Yellowstone National Park were surprised to find a grizzly bear out, feeding on a bison carcass.

Grizzly bears

Gunther: “This is unusual in that most years, grizzly bears first start coming out about the first week of March.”

That’s Kerry Gunther, a bear management biologist for the park. He says an unusually early spring may have woken the bear up from hibernation.

Gunther: “It maybe just got too hot in the den. Could’ve been snow melting into the den. And possibly the bear could smell that bison carcass nearby. And once there’s food available, then bears will come out of hibernation to start feeding.”

Grizzlies hibernate once food becomes scarce in the fall. But Gunther says with less snow in early winter, the bears are staying awake longer. Even in December, grizzlies have been seen following wolf packs and stealing what they kill. A warmer climate may mean bears will hibernate less, but there are other concerns.

Gunther: “Climate change could have a profound effect on the foods available to grizzly bears here – both the animals that they prey on and the vegetation species that they eat. So we’re watching it long-term to see if there are any changes due to our warming climate.”

This episode of Climate Connections was produced in partnership with iSeeChange.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media and iSeeChange/Jake Ryan and Brian Calvert, KVNF.
Photo: Copyright protected.

More Resources
Bears Starting To Emerge From Dens In Yellowstone
Grizzly Bears Are Waking Up Early This Year, and Climate Change Could Make That a Bad Habit
Yellowstone Grizzlies Exiting Winter Hibernation Early Amid Mild Weather