Bear Update: What to do during a bear encounter
By Michael Allen
Black Bear Researcher
Encounters with black bears in Whistler range from frequent early morning/evening sightings to the startling of bears at closer distances in backyards and at garbage bins. Although, the majority of Whistler bears are habituated to people and have become accustomed to our seasonal activities, bears may become aggressive for three reasons: 1) startled at close distance; 2) threatened while in the presence of young; and 3) disturbed at a food source. The following steps should be taken during a black bear encounter:
Never approach a bear for any reason. Each bear has an individual distance which represents how tolerant it will be of people — do not test it by seeing how close you can get.
Always face the bear but do not stare directly.
Walk backwards slowly. Never run to or from a bear. Bears can run faster than a horse in a charge. Bears perceive a threat by how close you are — when you increase the distance between yourself and the bear you reduce the threat.
Talk quietly if you think the bear is aware of your presence (bear's head, ears, eyes toward you). Talking identifies you to the bear — bear whistles and bells do not.
5. DON'T TALK
If the bear has not detected you (bear's back is towards you or its head is down feeding). Leave the area quietly keeping an eye on the bear. You may startle the bear if you begin talking when it is not aware of your presence.
6. WAVE ARMS
If a bear walks toward you wave your arms or a stick over your head while talking loudly. If you are in a group of people stand side by side.
If a bear continues to approach, shout "NO" continuously while waving arms, sticks, ski poles, etc. Make loud noises by banging rocks together or clapping hands, etc. Continue backing up — do not let the bear close the distance.
Always look big and act noisy and aggressive when a black bear approaches. NEVER PLAY DEAD.
Also, avoid the following to prevent encounters with black bears:
1. Disturbing bears while they are feeding.
2. Bringing dogs into bear country unless they are on a leash.
3. Camping in high bear use areas.
4. Leaving garbage and other organic attractants outside where bears can access them. Feeding bears creates conditioned bears, which are usually destroyed.
5. Approaching any bear, especially seemingly abandoned cubs or separated yearlings. Bears naturally survive on their own. When humans interfere, bears usually cannot be returned to the wilds.
Whistler Bear Activity
Late April through early May begins the shift from den emergence to the spring grazing period. Mothers with new-born cubs will emerge and leave their winter denning areas for low elevation green-up patches. Bear activity will steadily increase in Whistler with 2-year old bears moving through Whistler in search of garbage and living space during their dispersal from 1996 natal territories. Ten resident mother bears in the Whistler ecosystem are due to emerge with from 10 to 30 cubs. From March 9 through April 19 a minimum of 13 black bears (5 adult males, 2 adult females, 6 sub-adults) have been identified in the Whistler Landfill-Interpretive Forest, Whistler Mountain, and Blackcomb Mountain sub-populations.
The availability of garbage in Whistler is high. Garbage overflow at bins is the leading contributor to bear use and eventual conditioning. Many of these bins are housed in wooden buildings. Use caution when approaching buildings during early mornings or evenings. Bears can be pre-occupied while feeding inside a bin or building and may charge when spooked or trapped in close proximity to a person. It is safer to leave the doors of the building open as garbage-feeding activity can be detected and less damage is done to the doors from bears trying to gain access. Despite the future use of bear proof bins, bears will continually access these buildings based on past use and garbage food rewards. Also, do not leave garbage outside of the bin and inside the building. These buildings are not bear proof.
Anyone with questions regarding black bear ecology or problems with bear food attractants can contact me at 938-3816.