Bear Update: Public Involvement Program: BEAR FAMILY REPORTS 

Black Bear Researcher

The Whistler Black Bear Project is asking for your help in collecting information on the differences in colour and litter size of black bear families in the Sea-to-Sky Corridor.

BEAR FAMILY REPORTS is an informal monitoring program which allows residents or visitors the opportunity to learn more about black bears and participate in increasing the database on female black bear biology. This program is ideal for those who frequently sight bears during home, work, or recreational activity.

Every year numerous sightings erupt from Furry Creek, Britannia, Squamish, Brackendale, Pinecrest, Whistler, Pemberton, Mount Currie, and D’Arcy. Litter sizes and pelage colour of mother bears and their young differ significantly amongst those communities due to habitat quality (food supply: berries vs. salmon vs. agricultural crops vs. garbage), habitat type, and genetic pools.

Many residents live within or along the edge of female black bear territories. Females often situate a portion of enhanced habitat, such as a golf course, along the edge of their territory to reduce the number of interactions with other bears who are also attracted to the diverse food sources. Female bears are more wary of encounters with male bears than they are with humans.

Many recreational facilities enhance bear habitat, improving food supply for female black bears. Females habituate to human activity more successfully than adult males in order to exploit the enhanced food sources that they require from higher energetic demands of offspring (reproduction and hibernation). Females will often tolerate human disturbance longer than adult males. Ski areas, golf courses, horseback riding stables, ATV operators, and guided hikers, bikers, and fishermen all provide recreational opportunities in suitable and/or enhanced habitats for black bears.

Information required for a BEAR FAMILY REPORT is date, location, litter size (number of cubs or yearlings), and colour (black, chocolate brown, reddish brown, blonde) of mother and offspring.

An example of a BEAR FAMILY REPORT would be: May 15, Loggers Lake, black mother with 1 brown and 1 black cub.

There may be confusion as to whether the offspring are COY (cubs-of-the-year) or yearlings (1-year old cubs). COY are born in January and emerge from the den with their mother during May in Whistler and as early as April in Squamish and Pemberton. COY are .5 pounds at birth and emerge at 10-20 pounds. Cub size depends on litter size – the smaller the litter the larger the cub and the larger the litter the smaller the cub.

Cubs stay with their mothers for 17-19 months. Mother bears separate their families prior to mating. Daughters remain in their natal range (mother’s territory) and sons abruptly or gradually disperse. Sons are forced out of their natal range to avoid inbreeding and potential predation on their mother’s future offspring.

Yearlings emerge with their mothers as 1-year old cubs (after their first hibernation together) during April in Whistler and as early as March in Squamish and Pemberton. Yearlings at 17-18 months old weigh 40-80 pounds.

Confirming that a single black bear is in fact a mother may be difficult because cubs and even yearlings can be treed or hidden in cover, usually behind the mother. A lactating female may be identified if a bear has swollen nipples or teats. These are usually observed two to each side of the bear’s lower chest, between the fore and hind legs. Depending on the length of guard hairs teats may be difficult to see. Cubs are weaned by 7-8 months. To my knowledge yearlings do not nurse.

Bear families should never be approached . Often just seeing the family once and verifying a distinct family group is enough to help guide further investigations. Photos are helpful but not necessary. It is more important to record an actual sighting of mother with cubs/or yearlings than to try and see if a single lactating bear has cubs.

Participants of BEAR FAMILY REPORTS will be listed in the Public Involvement Program database along with their sightings. A summary of all sightings will be distributed to participants at the end of the bear season. You can register a BEAR FAMILY REPORT by:

Tel: 604-898-2713


Mail: BEAR FAMILY REPORTS, Box 1781, Squamish, B.C. V0N 3G0

Be sure to include your name, mailing address, and phone number or e-mail.

The next BEARLIFE slide presentation Cubs, Clover, and Courtship begins at 7 p.m. in Whistler at the Fairmont Chateau on Tuesday, May 21, and in Squamish at the public library on Wednesday, June 5. Information or questions regarding black bears or cougars call 604-898-2713 or e-mail

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