Fall bear research and education 

Whistler Black Bear Project

Genetic Tagging of Resident Bears

"Catching bears" continues this fall with the collection of hair samples from barbed wire hair traps that surround bear weigh scale sites. Bears are attracted by 3 ounces of sardine oil/paste which is smeared onto one inch thick, 3x6 foot plywood scale platforms. Bears crawl under or step over the barbed wire (which does not harm bears or other wildlife) allowing the barb to "catch" the roots of coarse guard hair and soft under fur. Hair samples have been retrieved from many resident females, their offspring, and resident males.

Samples are stored in coined envelopes with a desiccant (to absorb moisture) and will be sent to Wildlife Genetics International in Nelson, B.C. upon funding approval later this fall. Analysis of each hair sample will identify that bear’s DNA characteristics enabling a "genetic tag" for subsequent paternity, relatedness, and recapture analyses.

To help with studies I have been taking courses on Bear DNA/hair trapping from the Columbia Mountains Institute of Applied Ecology in Revelstoke, B.C. The next two courses are Study Design and Field Methods for DNA-Based, Mark-Recapture Inventories and Genetic Analysis of Individual Identity in DNA-Based Inventories.

Huckleberry Research

The August dry spell saved much of the berry crop after the long cooler spring-summer through July. Late August gave rise to abundant green berries but overall berry size was down due to lack of precipitation. The sudden early September cold, wet period caused many berries to rot at higher elevations. Despite the return to warmer, drier temperatures periodically in mid-September, a large portion of berries on shrubs have been lost reducing the number of berries to continue ripening.

This fall’s high elevation (> 1,200-metres) crop is about 50-75 per cent of the 2001 fall berry crop. There are highly abundant Mountain ash ( Sorbus sitchensis) and red elderberry ( Sambucus racemosa) which bears are taking advantage of as secondary berry sources.

Because of the drop in huckleberries, cub production this winter may be cut in half. Borderline weight gain by pregnant females results in one cub being produced instead of two. The 220-day gestation period of female black bears is interrupted by a process called delayed implantation, where the egg(s) delays implanting until early December.

This four-month period coincides with the first physiological stage of hibernation, called hyperphagia ("hyper feeding"). From mid-August through mid-October bears feed 16-22 hours a day on huckleberries, blueberries, mountain ash berries, red-osier dogwood berries, and high-bush cranberries. During late October their energy crashes as they gear down for denning or late fall feeding.

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