Bear Update: Bumper berry crops boost spring bear population 

Black Bear Researcher

Spring Bear Count

Whistler supports high densities of black bears in high quality habitats. If you are to remember one thing about black bears, remember that their lives are driven by the search for and consumption of, food and that many of their behavioral strategies are shaped from the outcome.

Weight gain and the layering of fat are vital to successful reproduction and hibernation. Bears are extremely intelligent and diversified omnivores (meat and plant eaters) possessing the largest brain mass relative to body size of any carnivore (of which they are classified).

Bears rapidly form associations between trial and response (good — food; bad — no food/pain). The bears’ successful search for and consumption of food always outweigh the brief periods of no food or pain (hazing w/rubber bullets, cracker shells, etc.). Whistler bears are successful in feeding within the boundaries of residential communities and commercial properties. Generally, 80 per cent of the time when a bear is in Whistler Valley less than 500-metres to human activity, they are feeding on enhanced natural foods (clover, grass, horsetail, skunk cabbage, insects, and berries).

During the first spring count (May 1-15) a minimum of 53 different black bears have been identified in four sub-populations: Whistler Interpretive Forest, Whistler Mountain, Blackcomb Mountain, and Lost Lake-Fairmont Chateau Golf Course.

The 2001 berry crop (July-October) produced the greatest abundance of Vaccinium (huckleberry and blueberry) measured in 8 years (1994-2001). High berry production yields fat bears and increased reproduction and survival rates.

Weather and Spring Density

The first half of winter was easy for single bears and mothers with yearlings (cubs hibernating for the first time), while the late winter stretch through mid-May has kept most mothers with COY (newborn cubs) in dens. Cooler temperatures have prolonged the snowpack at lower elevations, retarding green-up and huckleberry flowering. Spring foods are restricted to the valley bottom and adjacent lower ski/mountain slopes – all within close proximity to people.

During the first two weeks of May, at least 53 bears were forced to feed within an area of approximately 24 square kilometres. Densities are fluctuating between 1 bear per .5 to 1 square kilometre. Within these small areas bears have to tolerate or avoid other bears, people, vehicles, and dogs while searching for restricted green-up.

There are seven bear family groups (mother and yearlings) which are being displaced daily. Between the fringe of the Fairmont Chateau Golf Course to the bottom of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, four bear families struggle every day to grasp a foothold of their territory. Some days they graze successfully on the favoured lush clover along slopes a stones throw from hotels and parking lots, while other days they are bounced around by other bears or intrusive human activity.

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