Welcome to the Whistler Valley Black Bear Project Bear Update column. The purpose of these columns is to provide you, the resident and visitor of Whistler, with an opportunity to learn about the behaviour and habits of black bears occupying the valley and surrounding mountains. These columns will help you to understand why problems and conflicts occur between people and bears and outline steps you can take to prevent them. The columns will also summarize some of the information collected from the Whistler Valley Black Bear Project. This first column provides a brief introduction to the seasons of the black bear and the nature of the bear situation in Whistler. This will help you to understand the following columns for each bear season. A bear’s active year can be divided into six general seasons: denning, den emergence, spring, summer, fall and den entrance. Denning: This is the winter season when bears are non-active and sleep, starting anytime from late October to late December right through to early March-late April. Den emergence: Black bears emerge from their dens between early March and late April, depending on weather around the bear’s den and the age and health of the bear. Upon leaving the den a bear typically feeds on the twigs of shrubs and trees in various flowering stages and emerging skunk cabbage flowers and leaves at swamps. This year bears emerged from their dens around March 17 on Blackcomb Mountain. Spring: The spring season begins in early to mid-May when bears feed primarily on new green vegetation such as horsetails, grasses, sedges, clovers, dandelions and flowers. It is also the season when bear families break up, initiating the mating season. Summer: In mid- to late-June bears gradually begin to include the first ripe berries in their diet of otherwise green vegetation and insects. The first berries usually available to bears are Saskatoon and huckleberries. Fall: The fall season begins in mid- to late-August when bears’ physiology recognizes the need to increase the amount of food consumed each day. At this time bears begin to feed up to 21 hours a day to prepare for the denning season. Den entrance: The den entrance season is from late October to mid-December. When a bear enters its dens depends on the weight of the bear, food availability and the onset of winter weather. The Whistler Valley and surrounding mountains support a healthy population of black bears. The swamps and green areas throughout the valley and adjacent ski runs on Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains support high quality new green vegetation for bears to feed on during the den emergence and spring seasons. The vast logged areas and numerous forest openings on the mountains provide at least 10 major species of berries that bears feed on in the summer and fall seasons. So why would bears have to eat garbage if they have all this rich natural food? The answer is simple: we offer it to them. It is similar to some people eating sweets or fast foods instead of something healthy. If its easier and faster to get a meal one way, some people continue to eat this way. Whistler bears approach eating garbage the same way; if it’s left out opportunity dictates they should eat it. Black bears are not scavengers. While bears are in the valley feeding on natural foods they remember every site where garbage was left out. They might not return the next day, but will have that location stored in their memory for a return visit when food is not available at another feeding site. Bears are highly intelligent animals that carry a map in their head of every single location in this valley where a meal may be found, whether it’s a patch of huckleberries or a bin of garbage. This is called optimal foraging efficiency. The solution to most of Whistler’s problems with bears is simple — keep the valley clean. If you can store and dispose of your garbage without having it sit outside you are helping to preserve the well-being of bears in this valley. The next NAME column will appear in Pique on April 12 and will discuss the den emergence season in detail, including how bears become habituated to or used to feeding on garbage in Whistler. Michael Allen Bear researcher The Whistler Valley Bear Project is a joint effort of the Jennifer Jones Whistler Bear Foundation and Blackcomb Mountain.