Bear Update: 

Movements of a mother bear and two cubs

Bear Researcher

Whistler Black Bear Project

At 3:30 a.m. Whistler Village finally becomes quiet. The hustle and bustle of the resort is gone – temporarily. A security guard here, a taxicab there and the underlying hum of the village’s lifeline. For two weeks now I have shifted into nocturnal mode watching, waiting, and following the most unlikely creature to walk through Whistler Village. I have made my rounds since 9 p.m. the previous evening. Now, in the nearly still hours, shadows stretch and sneak around buildings to form a connectivity of movement and escape.

Between tree and building I catch the movement of three blocky bodies. The soft padding of their plantigrade feet carries them swiftly yet silently. Phantoms now, in our forests . Confident they are alone; the larger form penetrates the lamplight. The deep brown hair of the mother black bear illuminates under soft glow. Two smaller, 11-month-old cubs follow with hesitation. The brother larger than the sister, they huddle into their guide’s shadow.

The silhouette of the trio is unfortunately, not an unusual sight for Whistler at this time of year – even in the village. With the loss of the crucial September berry crop bears are forced to do what they need to do in order to secure required food and weight gain for winter. Unfortunately Jeanie, the 14-year-old (minimum age) ski area resident knows too well that supplemental human foods and non-natural fruit/berry shrubs exist in Whistler Valley. However, she maintains a strategy for her desperation, utilizing only the smallest portion (4-km 2 ) of her 40-km 2 annual home range to penetrate human habitation in search of supplemental foods.

After following Jeanie for 10 years, I am beginning to realize that she has become the icon of the Whistler bear community. Her fate is the depth of our footprint. No one said it would be easy to live with a neighbouring high bear population. It takes work and Jeanie, the bear-o-meter is the progress report.

Since loss of berries in early September, Jeanie and other bears have made their way to lower elevations searching for alternative berries while grazing grass and clover along ski trails. Thank goodness for the back-up foods of lush ski trails. At appropriate distances, ski trails act as a buffer to reducing valley bear activity. Many bears stop here to graze. Jeanie does not. In early October she began periodic evening forays through Whistler and Upper Villages to secure fruits of rose, cranberry, and mountain ash. Inevitably, in the village, she began to find opportunistic sources of edible human food and then developed a nocturnal routine of movements through both villages while bedding during the day in secure habitats of the ski area.

In the 11 days since Nov. 8, I have had three objectives at hand while monitoring Jeanie and cubs directly for over 40 hours in Whistler and Upper Villages: 1) to proactively locate and secure (bear proof) non-natural food sources, 2) to observe how she reacts to inaccessible (bear proof) food sources (that she previously accessed), and 3) to follow and map her movements through the villages (sometimes before she enters the valley) providing a safe (for people and bears) route of travel back into secure bedding areas.

Jeanie travels a 2-8 km route each night, checking over 10 specific sites of potential edible human foods. My first objective involved bear proofing or and/or removing attractants along her travel route each evening by 10 p.m. She usually arrived in the valley between midnight and 3 a.m. and left between 5 and 7 a.m. I don’t have much concern for bears frequenting Whistler Valley. And I don’t think we can stop them from entering the valley, but we can encourage a shorter visit by removing the rewards of edible human food attractants.

After the first two nights Jeanie has not been successful at consuming significant amounts of human foods. She still does wander the villages because history reveals food reward. Her early morning visits are becoming shorter and during the last morning (Nov. 22) she did not visit the villages. Progress is being made. It is possible to prepare for predicted periods of natural bear food shortages. I hope proactive monitoring programs such as Jeanie’s will continue to support the forward progress of bear-people management.

Thanks to Sylvia Dolson and the Whistler Bear Working Group for supporting Jeanie’s monitoring program, and to the many businesses and people that took part to ensure garbage facilities remained clean and secure.

Questions or information about black bears contact Michael Allen at 604-902-1660 or mallen_coastbear@direct.ca Thanks to Pique Newsmagazine for sponsorship of Bear Update columns.

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