Up here in Cambria’s backcountry, the break-ins continue. Our black bears’ (Ursus americanus) fall feeding frenzy — that autumnal inclination to pack on the pounds — isn’t over. It seems these bears like to snack throughout the year. Now that the coffeeberry supply is exhausted and other sources of food are scarce, omnivorous ursine mosey around the neighborhood in search of anything from grubs to garbage. Up for grabs is pretty much whatever smells good to them.
One powerful snout sniffed out our woodshed where, inside, unintentional bear bait was plentiful. Bags of kitty litter (made from ground walnut shells) and a kindling box full of empty peanut, pistachio and walnut shells must have smelled promising as they were being demolished.
What a disappointment for that bear. For all of its destructive efforts, it wasn’t rewarded with a bellyful of nuts. Thus, it wasn’t conditioned to come back for second helpings. Still, to avoid future forced entry, we no longer store or use those attractants.
In addition, feed for our animals is now stored inside well-sealed containers in a room of the cabin that is nearest to the parked cars. That way, if the dogs alert us to the presence of lumbering prowlers around the premises, we can press that red button on the car keys. After all, that alarm system (honking horn and flashing lights) is meant to deter outlaws.
If that doesn’t work, there are folks who arm themselves with more impactful alternatives. Naturally, we prefer using the most merciful persuasion possible in order to persuade a would-be burglar to lope away and avoid humans and their dwellings. However, should further repellent measures be necessary, as a means of preventing a bear break-in, some experts recommend pepper spray as an option. Simply say a prayer, be within range (30 to 40 feet) of a charging bear, then squeeze the trigger on that little canister of aerosol capsicums. Oh, and don’t forget to stay calm so that you can consider wind direction before you shoot.
By the way, a common understanding of hibernation (occupation of winter quarters while in a dormant state for an extended period) doesn’t seem to apply here. The complicated metabolic changes that are the process of hibernation seem to be influenced by region. Locally, although our bears may slow down and snooze in their dens or caves much of the time, apparently, they don’t go into a seasonal comatose-like sleep.
It depends on whom you ask, but near the ridgetop of these Santa Lucia Mountains, the state of torpor (sluggishness) seems to most clearly explain what our bear experience. Whatever you wish to call the process, inarguably, bears do have physiological responses to low food availability and temperatures. That said, all year long, these bears are likely capable of evacuating their digs if disturbed.
A word of caution for those of you who enjoy wilderness adventures on a cold winter’s day — if you come upon a slumbering bear in our area, don’t poke it. Happy 2018.
From over the ridge and off the grid, Michele Oksen writes for The Cambrian the second Thursday of every other month. Her column is special to The Cambrian.