Black Bear Researcher
Its 10 at night. Im standing at 1,400-metres elevation along the barren ski slopes above mid-station on Whistler Mountain. The late May cold evenings have released minimal patches of dead, flattened grass after the relentless pounding by winter skiers and snowboarders.
The landscape is harsh. I trudge up the steep slope of slushy snow patches and spongy brown grass. New plant life is scarce. I stop and scan the area. Im searching for an individual bear a mother bear that is expected to be accompanied by one or two cubs. I peer through the crepuscular period of increasing darkness. White patches of snow illuminate the falling sky.
I hike another 200 metres upslope and along the crest of an adjacent ski slope, some 300 metres away, I spot movement. The outline of a single bear breaks the slopes ridge. I strain through the binoculars. The bear has managed to find an isolated patch of green-up supported by spring run-off. I cant tell if the bear is black or brown night is falling fast.
I move up higher and closer. Winds are ripping down slope. I get within 100 metres of the slopes crest but the bear has disappeared. I hike above the bears area and come down along a trail from above. I want the bear to detect my scent. I stop and scan the descending mosaic of ski trails off to the right an adult bear is walking out from a stand of mature mountain hemlocks. No cubs are following.
I hike down from above the bear to within 50-metres. Catching my scent, the bear stops in mid-stride in a flash of opportunity I glance through the binoculars to see a large, flared, light-brown V patch on the bears chest. At that moment, two tiny, football-size bundles of fur run out from beneath the bears legs.
I walk down slowly, speaking to the bear in low tones. The cubs, already on their way to the ski trails edge, slump to the base of the biggest tree. Jeanie immediately approaches me with her nose raised to filtrate and confirm my identity. We stop 10-metres apart. I speak and she sits back on her haunches, a sign that she is relaxed.
I confirm that she has two cubs-of-the-year and begin walking away down slope. I turn to see the response and Jeanie is already at my spot where I was standing sensing the ground and supervising my retreat.
In my ninth year of field studies, Jeanie emerges for the seventh time with her third litter of cubs. Since 1998 she has produced five cubs (two in 1998, one in 2000, and two in 2002). And so another year begins of monitoring the most adaptable and passive bear in the Whistler Ecosystem.
BEAR FAMILY REPORTS
Many thanks to the hundreds of people that have participated in BEAR FAMILY REPORTS. Reporting bear families, yearlings, or any bear activity stimulates involvement and interest supporting understanding and toleration of close, natural bear activity. A database with all participants information will be published in the Pique Newsmagazine at the end of the bear season, during December.
BEAR FAMILY REPORTS is inputted into the Whistler Valley bear mapping database on activity and movement patterns. To report a BEAR FAMILY (mothers with cubs or yearlings) please include date, colour of bears, litter size, and location to 604-898-2713 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
The Whistler Black Bear Project Slide Series continues with the next presentation Social Life of Black Bears on Tuesday, June 25 th at 7 p.m. in the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Proceeds from the slide series support children bear education programs.
Be sure to look for next weeks column A Guide to Body Language and Behavior of Local Bears . Bear Update columns are sponsored by Pique Newsmagazine.