Monday, November 25, 2013

Acorns and Bears

Black bears in white oak tree.
With the bear hunting season currently underway in Pennsylvania for the next few days I felt it would be appropriate to share this information with my readers.  The below article was written for Virginia but Pennsylvania is experiencing the same shortage of acorns statewide as well. 

After the bumper crop of acorns Pennsylvania had in 2012 we are experiencing a severe acorn shortage this fall.  Many wildlife species rely upon acorns to fatten up before winter sets in.  In fact, in a news release from the PA Game Commission chief forester Dave Gustafson indicated, "This year has produced a spotty acorn crop statewide.  A late spring frost affected white oaks and chestnut oaks. And a cold wet spring in 2012 affected red oaks, which take two years to produce.  Those conditions have combined to limit acorn availability in many areas.  That's not to say there aren't acorns to be found.  In some cases, though, it can take some work to find them."
Bumper crop of red oak acorns.

Points of interest:
1. During acorn shortages a bears range may double or even quadruple
2. Bears may go into hibernation earlier during shortages
3. In years of mast failures bear cub survival declines
4. A bears lifetime is typically 12-15 years
5. In years of mast failures bears turn to alternative food sources, including human provided sources
6. A bears lifetime can be cut in half if it has access to human-style foods

Acorn shortage may have bears changing patterns
(The News Advance, Lynchburg, VA, November 20, 2013)

Acorns are scarce, and that means black bears may behave differently, Virginia’s forest and game experts said. Most of the oak trees that produce acorns are taking the year off in Virginia and neighboring states, forestry officials have said on their websites.

Bears depend heavily on acorns for food since red and white oak trees that produce those nuts dominate mountain forests. Bears and other wildlife can turn to alternate foods, or mast, such as berries and hickory nuts, which grew abundantly this year. Also, frequently, they turn to bird feeders, trash cans, dumpsters — dog food too, if it’s left where they can sniff it, even in urban areas. Police routinely confirm reports of bears venturing into human habitats, such as a family that included cubs, which roamed Lee’s Trailer Park in Madison Heights in September. Another bear was seen crossing the road onto Lynchburg College’s campus two weeks later. Humans actually harm bears if food or garbage is left where bears can reach them, wildlife experts say. A bear’s lifetime, typically 12 to 15 years, can be cut in half if it has access to human-style foods, according to the National Forest Service. It also is against the law to feed bears in Virginia.

Acorns typically provide about half the forage consumed by bear, deer, and turkey. As a result of the acorn shortage, the roaming range of bears can double or even quadruple, according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Also, bears may go into hibernation earlier. Bear cub survival tends to decline in years with mast failures, said Gary Norman, of Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

There’s no single explanation for the lack of acorns this year, said Jerre Creighton, of the Virginia Department of Forestry. Possibilities include a natural cycle in which oak trees may be resting after producing a bumper crop of acorns in 2012, he said. Also, many of the oaks’ flower buds died before they could be pollinated last spring, he said — possibly due to late-spring freezes or high humidity from abundant spring rains. “We experienced both of these over much of Virginia,” Creighton said in a news release.

To read the full release click here.

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