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Fall bear research and education

Whistler Black Bear Project Genetic Tagging of Resident Bears "Catching bears" continues this fall with the collection of hair samples from barbed wire hair traps that surround bear weigh scale sites.

Whistler Black Bear Project

Genetic Tagging of Resident Bears

"Catching bears" continues this fall with the collection of hair samples from barbed wire hair traps that surround bear weigh scale sites. Bears are attracted by 3 ounces of sardine oil/paste which is smeared onto one inch thick, 3x6 foot plywood scale platforms. Bears crawl under or step over the barbed wire (which does not harm bears or other wildlife) allowing the barb to "catch" the roots of coarse guard hair and soft under fur. Hair samples have been retrieved from many resident females, their offspring, and resident males.

Samples are stored in coined envelopes with a desiccant (to absorb moisture) and will be sent to Wildlife Genetics International in Nelson, B.C. upon funding approval later this fall. Analysis of each hair sample will identify that bear’s DNA characteristics enabling a "genetic tag" for subsequent paternity, relatedness, and recapture analyses.

To help with studies I have been taking courses on Bear DNA/hair trapping from the Columbia Mountains Institute of Applied Ecology in Revelstoke, B.C. The next two courses are Study Design and Field Methods for DNA-Based, Mark-Recapture Inventories and Genetic Analysis of Individual Identity in DNA-Based Inventories.

Huckleberry Research

The August dry spell saved much of the berry crop after the long cooler spring-summer through July. Late August gave rise to abundant green berries but overall berry size was down due to lack of precipitation. The sudden early September cold, wet period caused many berries to rot at higher elevations. Despite the return to warmer, drier temperatures periodically in mid-September, a large portion of berries on shrubs have been lost reducing the number of berries to continue ripening.

This fall’s high elevation (> 1,200-metres) crop is about 50-75 per cent of the 2001 fall berry crop. There are highly abundant Mountain ash ( Sorbus sitchensis) and red elderberry ( Sambucus racemosa) which bears are taking advantage of as secondary berry sources.

Because of the drop in huckleberries, cub production this winter may be cut in half. Borderline weight gain by pregnant females results in one cub being produced instead of two. The 220-day gestation period of female black bears is interrupted by a process called delayed implantation, where the egg(s) delays implanting until early December.

This four-month period coincides with the first physiological stage of hibernation, called hyperphagia ("hyper feeding"). From mid-August through mid-October bears feed 16-22 hours a day on huckleberries, blueberries, mountain ash berries, red-osier dogwood berries, and high-bush cranberries. During late October their energy crashes as they gear down for denning or late fall feeding.

Because of their importance to black bear biology, the phenology of huckleberry and blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) has been studied in Whistler for the past eight years. Plots have been established in various habitats of Mount Seymour Provincial Park and Garibaldi Provincial Park.

Weight Gain

Bears continue to be weighed this fall with the large animal veterinarian scale made possible by Whistler-Blackcomb (2000). Adult females, cubs, yearlings, and adult males are targeted for weighing.

Weight and weight gain is crucial information to determine individual fitness. For example, Jeanie , a resident female on Whistler Mountain, entered her winter den last November (2001) at 320 pounds after doubling her weight from mid-April den emergence. She emerged this spring in late May at 155 pounds. The dramatic weight loss results from seven months of hibernation, birth of two cubs in January, and cub rearing (nursing) for another six months before consuming solid food.

To date Jeanie has gained 40 pounds to reach 195 pounds. Her two cubs emerged at 12 (daughter) and 14 (son) pounds in mid-May. They now weigh 45 and 55 pounds, respectively.

School Bear Behavior Video Presentations and Field Trips

Bear education continues at Myrtle Philip Community School with new bear behaviour video presentations and the fourth year of bear habitat field trips for Grade 5 students. Eighty-three students will visit the Green Acres north-slope bear habitat to participate in observing bears, plant identification and den surveys.

Since 1997, approximately 6,000 students have participated in local school bear education outreach. School bear education programs have been sponsored by the Resort Municipality of Whistler since 1999.

School outreach also includes programs with various Greater Vancouver and Howe Sound District schools.

October Bear Camp for Kids

The sixth Bear Research Camp for Kids will be held on Saturdays from Oct. 5 to 26. Two sessions are available each Saturday (10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m.) for eight kids (four each session), 10-16 years old. Cost is $150 per child. To register contact Stephanie or Julie at RMOW Parks and Recreation, 604-935-8371.

These popular camps are an exciting way for local and visiting children to experience the field activities of a bear researcher: observing/weighing bears, collecting bear hair samples, analyzing scat, and surveying bear dens. Kids participating in this camp will be filmed during bear research activities for an up-coming documentary.

Bear Skeleton Project

The re-construction of an adult black bear skeleton will resume this late fall thanks to the financial support of a municipal grant-in-aid and Whistler-Blackcomb (Allana Hamm).

A workbook is being developed with the help of my wife Kristi Bane, DVM, to allow students and teachers to reference the step by step process from bone preparation to identification and articulation.

Progress of the project will be displayed in the library with the completed project stored at the Whistler Museum and Archives. The skeleton will provide a unique visual aid for future talks on bear anatomy, physiology, behaviour, and evolution.

Questions on the kids camp or bears please call field tel. 604-902-1660 or office tel. 604-898-2713 and by e-mail Thanks to Pique Newsmagazine for sponsorship of the 71 st Bear Update column.