Black bears eating garbage and roaming around populated areas near Lake Tahoe when they should be hibernating is a result of the severe drought in California and Nevada, according to Chris Healy, public information officer with the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
He says the drought has diminished the bears' natural food supply of nuts and berries. And he says the bears are staying awake because they haven't eaten enough to sustain their hibernation.
"We have had black bears in the Tahoe Basin that have actually either not hibernated, or in most cases hibernate just a little bit, and then wake up on garbage night," he explains. "Basically, follow the garbage truck around, eat for a couple of days, and then go back into hibernation."
Healy points out another problem is that some people in the area are feeding the bears.
He says it's the worst thing to do, because the animals can become dependent on human food and turn their backs on their normal diet of nuts and berries.
Healy says there is also a city ordinance under consideration in Incline Village that would require residents to bear-proof their garbage containers.
He adds if the drought persists, the bears won't have enough food to eat this summer, either.
"These bears that emerge will not have the quantity of natural food that they're going to need, which will set us up for a potentially large nuisance-bear year, this coming year," he says.
The snowpack around the Tahoe Basin is roughly 25 percent of normal for this time of year.