Natural Bear Food: What is hard and soft mast?

Bur oak acorns (photo: Alan Olander)

Hard mast includes nuts and seeds such as acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts and pecans. Soft mast includes berries and fruits such as crabapples, blueberries, and serviceberries, as well as orchard fruits such as apples, peaches and other stone fruits, grapes and corn and other vegetables. Both types of mast are important year-round food sources for wildlife, but hard mast is often considered more critical, especially as a winter food source, because it’s a much denser source of calories.

Sometimes early freezes, fires, floods or other weather events damage mast crops. When areas experience widespread mast shortages or failures, bears must search even harder for other food sources. If your area has been hit by a food failure or natural disaster, it’s tempting to “help” the bears by putting out food for them. But it’s important to remember that over the years wildlife has learned to live with and adapt to fires, floods and food shortages and that feeding wildlife is never a good idea.

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