Bear Update: Spring bear count 

During May and June I will be conducting the annual bear count for Whistler.


Whistler Black Bear Project

Two methods are used to determine the minimum spring population of black bears in Whistler: 1) to identify and count individual bears at "bear activity cells" within clumped food sources (landfill, valley skunk cabbage swamps, ski area, golf course, Lost Lake, and Emerald Forest) and 2) to collect hair samples from 50 barbed-wired hair traps for subsequent DNA analysis and permanent marking.

I have been monitoring bear population trends since 1994. The number of adult females has increased, with adult males decreasing and cub production correlated with huckleberry abundance (pregnant female weight gain) that itself is governed by climate influence on berry phenology. I refer to this cycle as Bees, Berries, and Bears. On May 30 at Millennium Place I will present the population trend including annual cyclic events of Whistler black bears.

I would like to thank residents and visitors to Whistler that have over the years called in with their bear reports and stories of bear families (and other bears). From kid’s incredible stories to e-mails and phone calls to someone pulling me over on Granville Street in downtown Vancouver to tell me of their sighting of a bear family in Whistler – this information is extremely helpful.

I confirm about 70 per cent of what the public reports, which is good. Basically, it guides me in the right direction for identifying bears in areas I don’t frequent as much or that are under-sampled. So thank you; it is vital information which I believe stimulates public involvement and introduces a shift in attitude and/or perception of local bears from complaints to genuine conservation.

I am asking again this year – especially in May and June – to report any family groups (females with cubs or yearlings) and large single bears or courting pairs (breeding period: June-July). All public reports are maintained in a database by the Whistler Black Bear Project for research and education use only. Phone numbers and addresses remain confidential.

No research investigating behaviour or population ecology of black bears in "urban habitats" has occurred in British Columbia except within the RMOW. Black bears have been "managed" in response to bear-human conflicts (deterred, relocated, and/or destroyed) but not studied.

Despite provincial population estimates of 120,000-160,000 animals little scientific data exists on black bear behaviour and population dynamics adjacent to people in a dynamic landscape.

Traditional field research methods for large, shy, forest-dwelling mammals are radio telemetry. Animals can be captured, collared, and re-captured for a population estimate. Subsequently, collared animals may be monitored to determine behaviour, biology, movements, and mortality. However, radio telemetry programs are expensive, and the requirement of 3-5 years to achieve statistical safe efforts could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many environs throughout North America do not have an option due to densely covered study areas where bear visibility is poor and/or study objectives dictate the use of a collar.

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