There wasn’t a live streaming webcam pointed at it, but Washington had its own high-rise black bear hibernating way up a cottonwood tree this past winter.
The 4-year-old female denned in a niche 28 feet above the ground near Lake Wenatchee, according to Lindsay Welfelt.
She should know, as she crawled in with the bruin — albeit, after it was temporarily immobilized.
Welfelt’s an assistant bear and cougar specialist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and says that this particular animal has been monitored for the past two years.
It’s part of a long-term research project she and fellow WDFW staffer Rich Beausoleil are running in this part of Chelan County and across the Cascade Crest in King County’s Snoqualmie area.
“We have been monitoring bears in these areas to look at survival, reproduction, population density, and den site characteristics,” Weltfelt says. “Most females do not reproduce in this area until they are five, so we went to this bear’s den to replace her GPS collar that will last another two years. Hopefully we will document her first reproduction next winter.”
According to WDFW’s latest weekly Wildlife Program report, where a fuzzy image of her den dive first appeared, she and Beausoleil had checked in on 56 hibernating bears, placing GPS collars on 42 and stationed cameras outside 13 dens to that point in mid-April.
A total of 198 bears are part of the study, 73 of which are “on the air,” meaning collared with telemetry.
Speaking of on the air, earlier this year, a male black bear slumbering some 50-plus feet up another cottonwood tree drew widespread interest when Glacier National Park managers trained a webcam on it.
That was deactivated after the bear wandered off, but Welfelt says tree-denning is “relatively common” for the species and that she and Beausoleil have had several hibernate that way.
“The advantage of a den up a tree would be additional safety during the denning period from larger bears or other predators. There is likely also a thermal advantage to keep them off the frozen or wet ground and protection from weather,” she says.
Of note, WDFW’s study bears seemed to stay indoors, if you will, a little longer this winter.
“Bears in our areas generally den for four to five months in the winter, but this year we documented several bears that were in dens up to six months, mid-October through mid-April,” Welfelt says.
Still, Washington bears should now all be out of their dens and looking for grub.
Welfelt says that WDFW’s bear work now moves towards public education about “the big three.”
“Garbage, bird feeders, and fruit trees — if we could eliminate those attractants, we could virtually eliminate human-bear conflict,” she says.