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Bear Update: Bear family count

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By Michael Allen

This spring, three forces are working against Whistler resident mother bears: 1) cooler temperatures and the lingering mid-mountain snow-pack is keeping all bears at valley to lower mountain slopes (currently grazing line is 1,100 metres); 2) the 2005-06 bumper berry crops have supported high cub production and yearling survival to 2007; and 3) Olympic construction, snow-making, mountain bike operations and expansion, and human disturbance (+dogs) have fragmented an already crowded (with bears) narrow band of spring grazing terrain.

These forces are directing stress through bear social structure that could lead to higher cub mortality, especially with mothers of two- and three-cub litters.

As of May 27, I have identified 17 adult females, nine with 17 yearlings and eight with 18 cubs-of-the-year (born January 2007). Four females have not been seen as of yet.

With the crowdedness of the ski trails and lowest available green-up in 14 years, some mothers are being bounced back and forth between very small grazing areas.

In total, a minimum of 61 black bears have been identified so far. Family break-up should begin during the next two-three weeks but you never know how some mothers will react to extreme changes in their daily activities.

It will be interesting to see how this spring's breeding season plays out as males are now starting to move through female feeding areas.

The ski area is crowded, with 12 bear families active amongst mountain bike trails and construction sites. Many of these construction sites will undergo re-vegetation and return to green status for bears, possibly by fall.

The high snow-pack will likely reduce fall berry availability, hopefully, dropping 2008 cub production and providing natural mortality checks on a sharp rise in juvenile bear abundance.

Spring 2008 could see 40+ juveniles in the population, if survival remains high through fall 2007.

Whistler has an unnatural abundance of bears since ski trails, golf courses, and valley green-belt increase food supply, thus supporting greater abundance and higher bear density. I guess the question is, if we remove or disrupt seasonal feeding areas, is that bad or of concern, since we have too many bears?

And the possibility of a low berry crop this fall will push dispersing yearlings, some mothers with cubs, and young adult males to searching for human foods, thereby increasing the build-up of reinforced human-food conditioning and potential home break-ins.

And does that mean that in two to three years, after we have tried to scare away all this bad bear behaviour, will we end up killing the surplus of human-food dependent bears as we did during the last 14 months?

If you have questions about bears, e-mail me at mallen_coastbear@direct.ca . I'd like to thank the staff at MY Millennium Place who supported my showcase of Photographing Black Bears .

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