Rise in bear sightings as 'fall shuffle' gets underway

Across many areas of the country, bears are working to beat winter’s onslaught by packing on pounds, in preparation for their months-long hibernation.

Experts refer to the bears’ increased mobility to find food as the ‘fall shuffle.’

The preparation for the winter can begin as early as August and last until food starts to become sparse. 

Chris Servheen, a wildlife biologist, who previously served as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's national grizzly bear recovery coordinator, says the weather’s impact on food sources effects when the animals start the trek to their winter den. "The weather either helps kill off or helps increase the food availability, and that’s why bears either hibernate or don’t."

Servheen says warm weather cannot only prolong how long bears forage for food, it can also speed up their return from the den in the spring.

Biologists estimate there are around a million bears that roam the landscape of North America. 

And while encountering a bear is still considered rare in many parts of the country, Servheen believes human migration is leading to increase sightings.

"We see more and more people moving into their habitats now. And what that means is that there's more conflicts with bears because people are building houses and places where there are never houses before," Servheen said.

The National Park Service warns people should keep their distance and stay calm if they encounter a bear. The agency suggests knowing several tips if you ever come face-to-face with a bear:

  • Make yourself look as large as possible: Slowly wave your arms to let the bear know that you are not prey
  • Stay Calm: Talk to the bear in only low tones. A scream or sudden movement might trigger an attack
  • Move slowly away: Don't run. Make sideways movements away from the bear
  • Be cautious around cubs: Don't approach or get between a mother and her cubs. Bears will attack to fend off any perceived dangers to the cubs