bear update 

BEAR UPDATE: Managing people By Michael Allen Black Bear Researcher There are many bear experts in Whistler — people that make decisions regarding the lives of black bears. I am not one of them. I want to make it very clear who I am and what my role is regarding Whistler black bears. I am not a black bear biologist nor am I a registered professional wildlife biologist as some people assume because of my interest and work with bears. I am a black bear researcher — a student of bears, if you will — someone that is constantly learning something new about bears and reinforcing this knowledge with new experiences so that others may learn. My knowledge stems from direct field observations and/or interpretations of bear sign. I would like to call myself a naturalist but in the United Kingdom a naturalist is someone who likes to run around naked and that's not one of my strong points. This is my 13th year studying black bears who occupy habitats near humans and their developments. Bears have led me around dumps, golf courses, orchards, farms, hydroelectric dams, rivers, lakes, beaches, interpretive forests, ski areas, parks, hiking/biking trails and residential subdivisions. This vault of black bear natural history information, during the next two years, will 1) yield predictive population (adult female reproductive fitness models) and habitat (denning) models to be tested in other areas of the region (ie., North Vancouver); 2) support undergraduate university courses and projects, and most importantly; 3) develop comprehensive awareness and education programs with the aid of interactive CD-ROM multimedia. I offer my interpretation of the black bear's character: extremely intelligent, adaptive, tolerant, maternal, powerful, and respectful. Intelligent - A bear will mentally map out every huckleberry patch throughout the Whistler-Blackcomb ski area and yet never completely exhaust one thicket of berries but, feed a little at many shrubs to expand his knowledge/memory of numerous potential sources of berries in the event of a scattered berry crop failure. Adaptive - Bears spend more than half of their lives sleeping; a response to a period of no suitable natural food. Bears will shift their activities in response to ski area development or logging only to return to the area with enhanced food resources. Bears adapt to people every day they feed throughout the valley and ski area. Tolerant - When bears venture below 700-metres elevation in Whistler they are exercising an extreme level of tolerance to human activities in order to benefit from first berry ripening in the valley and opportunistic high-fat human food — garbage. Maternal - Black bear mothers exhibit one of the strongest bonds and most protective behaviours of all mothers in the animal world. Mothers also allow yearling daughters to reside in their territory, providing a survival boost due to the daughter's familiarity of the territory. Powerful - Built for forest-living, black bears have extremely strong forepaws and shoulders for climbing, tearing, and travelling in diverse topography. Respectful - Using their capabilities of intelligence, black bears have the ability to recognize an individual and allow their close presence, even to cubs, resulting in respect and trust. Yet with these remarkable qualities in an animal which lives so close, we continue to abuse black bears by luring them with available human food garbage then remedying the problem bear situation by reacting with sprays, bangers, bullets, and now bear dogs. Based on what I have experienced in the last decade, most British Columbia black bears remain unmanageable in environs such as Whistler where fragmented forest cover allows bear access and escape throughout interspersed human habitation. In other words there are too many trees and shrubs throughout Whistler subdivisions to effectively chase a bear. Unless a bear is radio-collared you cannot predict its movements throughout a subdivision which has an endless supply of potential garbage and natural sources of food. Also, in Whistler where is the definitive line between bad habitat where the bear should not be and good habitat where the bear is allowed to feed on natural foods — probably the huckleberry shrubs right outside your kitchen window. People need to be managed, not black bears. The management of people means awareness, direct education, and enforced bear-proof garbage containment — this does not occur in Whistler, and that's why so many bears have been destroyed. Sure, you can scare a bear out of an area to avoid a potential larger conflict, but deterring bears from Whistler's back yards is not going to have any lasting effect on most bears’ desire to feed close to people. And in the long run it will not save the bear's life but rather prolong its inevitable destruction. Bears have to be put down because of a lack of education or proper garbage containment. You can yell, spray, chase, shoot or otherwise attempt to manage black bears that enter the backyards of Whistler but in the end, when they get hungry and berries ripen or garbage is left available in subdivisions, bears will return. It is simply their life strategy: to feed half the year so they may successfully sleep the other half when there is no food. It is interesting to look at places like Alaska where small fishing villages and even towns larger than Whistler have 500-800-pound Kodiak grizzly bears roaming through them, like our 100-400-pound black bears roam through Whistler. Yet these people have learned how to conduct their lives around these magnificent omnivores. They have learned to adapt their lives and tolerate the presence of bears. Why can't we? Whistler black bear research is funded by Coast Mountain Black Bear Resources. Bear ecology displays can be viewed in the valley at the Whistler Museum and on Whistler Mountain at the Roundhouse Lodge. Black bear ecology and awareness slide shows are presented at the Whistler Museum every Wednesday through Sept. 8, 1999. Bear Update columns are sponsored by Pique Newsmagazine. Questions or information about black bears call 935-1176.


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