Drought Forces Hungry Black Bears to Forage in Nevada

Oct 23, 2014 12:51 PM EDT

Nevada's ongoing drought continues to make food scarce in the mountains, forcing hungry black bears to openly forage in the middle of town, sometimes in the most unusual places, reports say.

You'd be desperate for food too if you had to eat the equivalent of 80 cheeseburgers a day - bears have to consume more than 20,000 calories in order to prepare for hibernation during winter months, according to the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

Since July 1, the department has caught 42 black bears and released all but two back into the wild. A pair of repeat offenders unfortunately had to be put down while some 10 more have been killed by cars as they make their way from the Sierra Mountains into more populated areas.

"Nothing much gets in the bear's way when they are this hungry," Carl Lackey, Department of Wildlife chief biologist, told The Associated Press (AP). "Nature's dinner bell is ringing."

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These tenacious black bears have been found rummaging through picnic baskets, dumpsters, residential trees, backyard ponds, even in people's kitchens who left their doors either unlocked or open.

"There is better habitat down in these neighborhoods than what a bear can find up there in the forest," Lackey told CBS News. "Everybody's got fruit trees, lots of urban ponds. It's a food buffet for a bear."

The extreme drought has not only dried up rivers, it's also depleted the bears' natural food sources like berries and insects, forcing them farther into urban communities to feed.

Nearby residents, including those in Lake Tahoe, are growing more than concerned that these hungry bears will keep returning, and if they will soon set their sights on humans, which to them may look to like a piece of meat.

That would be bad news bears for us. Humans are no match for these 450-pound mammals that can run at speeds of up to 30 mph. The American Black Bear is the only bear species occurring naturally in Nevada, according to the state's Department of Wildlife. And though they are most recognized for their jet-black coloring, they also come in shades of cinnamon and brown. They are normally nocturnal, but starvation is driving them into the daylight.

This is the third consecutive year, the AP notes, that drought has exacerbated bear encounters with humans.

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