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Bears sleep more in the winter, but not all day

Since you asked

My wife and I were walking in the woods the other day and happened upon what appeared to be some very fresh bear scat.

I thought bears went to sleep for the winter. What's up?

' Billy D., Grants Pass

Sorry, Billy, we're going to have to shatter your illusions on this one. Ursus americanus, the North American black bear, slows down in the winter, but doesn't really stop ' at least not in Southern Oregon's mild climate.

They just sleep a lot more and eat a lot less, says Kelly Brown of Wildlife Images in Grants Pass.

Bears don't hibernate the way people think they do, Brown says. They don't go in a den and sleep for four months and never come out.

Brown says you may well have seen some fresh bear sign in the woods. That wouldn't be unusual.

You can get the lowdown on bears on the Internet at a Web site maintained by the North American Bear Center:

Browsing through that site, we happened on a section about misinformation about black bears. One of the greatest misconceptions is that they are likely to attack people in defense of cubs.

They are highly unlikely to do this, biologist Lynn Rogers writes. Black bear researchers often capture screaming cubs in the presence of bluff-charging mothers with no attacks.

Defense of cubs is a grizzly bear trait. About 70 percent of human deaths from grizzly bears are from mothers defending cubs, but black bear mothers have not been known to kill anyone in defense of cubs.

Send questions to Since You Asked, Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to