Bears are out there, and they’re hungry 

Anyone keen to learn more about the bears we share our environment with is invited to attend a black bear slide presentation at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 24.

The two hour slide and video session presented by Whistler-Blackcomb black bear researcher Michael Allen is part of a season-long initiative to better educate humans about bear behaviour. This month’s show will focus on den emergence, where bears sleep outside of the den, misconceptions about starvation, human-food bear attractants, bear-proofing residences and bear encounter guidelines.

Allen says people are becoming more informed about how to co-exist with bears, as can be seen by the reduced number of bears destroyed adjacent to residential communities throughout British Columbia.

However, even experienced bear researchers like Allen find there is still plenty to learn about black bears. He says a recent encounter with a hungry male black bear reinforces the fact that they are fast learners – especially when it comes to food.

"I was out near the Whistler Interpretative Forest with my weighing equipment last week to record the weight of a 250 pound male that had recently come out of his den," he explains. As usual, Allen had smeared sardine oil on the wooden platform as an attractant.

"As he climbed off the scales he started coming over towards me because he could smell the oil on my hands." Allen says throwing things and yelling didn’t stop the bear’s advance so he started walking the 700 metres back to his truck, picking up the pace as he went. And so did the bear.

"I now know that bears can move pretty quickly through pretty deep snow," he added.

Fortunately the bear knew him from last season and Allen says he definitely wasn’t in an attacking or aggressive-protective mode.

"He could have overtaken me if he wanted to but basically he was hungry and had associated food with the smell of the oil," he says. "Male bears can be pretty persistent and I’ll be careful to wash my hands next time."

Allen says this lesson can be applied to all food attractants in the Whistler Valley. "One of the worst problems is with bird feeders because bears quickly associate it as being a food source and seek out feeders on other properties." Garbage is also a major attractant and should be kept inaccessible, he added.

Allen says bears will start emerging from their dens between April and early June, depending on the altitude of their dens, with high alpine dwellers followed by mothers and cubs being the last to come out. However, he says this season’s below average snowpack could see females emerging a few weeks earlier than usual.

Bears’ main diet at this time of year is new grasses, skunk cabbage, pussy willows and highbrush cranberries.

Slide presentations on black bears are scheduled for the last Tuesday of every month in Whistler and the first Wednesday of every month in Squamish, from April to December. However, shows will not be held in August due to Allen’s other commitments, or in November, when he is tracking bears heading to their dens. Admission is $8 at the door.

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