It may not quite be spring yet, but for at least one Yellowstone grizzly bear, winter is over.
The first Yellowstone grizzly bear was sighted earlier this week, according to Yellowstone National Park spokesperson Amy Bartlett, speaking to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. The bear (a large male grizzly) was sighted in the Nez Perce Creek drainage earlier this week.
If this seems too early for a bear to reemerge, it really isn’t. Last year, the first bear sighting happened February 9. Indeed, Bartlett wasn’t quite surprised at the bear sighting. Others are surprised a bear wasn’t sighted sooner. From the Chronicle:
Frank van Manen, the leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, agreed with Bartlett, adding that he was expecting a sighting to happen.
“We were anticipating the first report of that any time,” van Manen said.
Male bears leave dens earlier than females do, and females without cubs leave the den before females with cubs.
A 2002 paper put out by the U.S. Geological Survey that analyzed denning patterns between 1975 and 1999 said as much as 10 percent of male bears might emerge in February. Females without cubs may start emerging in mid-to-late March, while females with cubs are likely to stay in the den until the last days of March or early April. By May, most bears are likely to be out of their dens.
Bears emerge from hibernation in order to look for food, usually in the form of a winter-killed elk or bison carcass.
If you’re traveling in Yellowstone National Park this winter or do ever plan to travel in the winter, be sure and follow Park guidelines for bear safety. Don’t travel alone in the backcountry and keep at least 100 yards between yourself and a bear whenever possible. Make noise so a bear knows you’re in the area.
Most important: carry bear spray on yourself. Ideally, this would be your last line of defense.