Grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park are rising out of hibernation weeks earlier than usual this year due to mild winter weather. According to the Yellowstone National Park Service, the first confirmed grizzly bear sighting happened on February 9th when a bear was spotted scavenging a bison carcass. On Tuesday, park spokesman Al Nash said that “the arrival of spring-like weather, with warmer-than-usual temperatures and rain instead of snow” was causing grizzlies to emerge roughly a month earlier than in recent years.
The bears start looking for food shortly after coming out of hibernation, and they are especially drawn to elk and bison carcasses. Visitors to the park are advised to stay in groups of at least three, make noise on the trail, and carry bear spray, according to park officials.
While Boston and much of New England endures a winter of record snowfall, Western mountain ranges are looking on enviously. With Boston communities dumping snow into the harbor, California snowpack, critical to the state’s water needs, is at about 21 percent of average. In Washington state, the mild winter has left snowpack at around 39 percent of normal, as much of the potential snow ended up falling as rain.
An unusually warm, dry January slowed snowpack accumulation across much of the West, according to federal data released this week.
“This is as low a snowpack as I’ve seen across the Sierra Nevada and Cascades for many locations at this time of year,” said National Water and Climate Center Director Mike Strobel.
Yellowstone National Park, which draws more than three million visitors annually, is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. Last year the park was proposed to be one of 60 key climate change monitoring stations as part of what would become the largest long-term study of climate change in North America. Known as the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) project, data would be gathered at sites spread among all the different ecological regions in the U.S.
Yellowstone was chosen as a NEON site because “it is definitely one of the true wildland sites throughout the whole country,” said Dave Tazik, a NEON project scientist.