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Bear Update: Bear space

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During my 17 years of research I have never had a problem with female bears; males always maintain greater spaces or distances than females. Younger bears may tolerate people more than older bears, especially if the offspring of a mother with a smaller bear space or greater toleration passes on this behaviour. Young males (1.5 to 5 years) may also tolerate people throughout "urban habitats" to avoid dominant males in natural habitats. Bears in concentrated, high quality Whistler habitat tend to habituate to people more readily than bears in poorer quality habitats. Bears need to take advantage of available food and will benefit by tolerating people in relatively close quarters.

Bear space changes throughout seasons. Bears may be shy of people during den emergence (April-May). The habituation of human activity needs to be reinforced each season if bears are to successfully occupy valley habitat. Habituation becomes reinforced throughout the year and bear space becomes smaller, allowing more stimuli as food rewards become more frequent and physical threats are avoided.

Ski area bear viewing is a wonderful way to experience "bear space" and experiencing a good understanding for bear behaviour. Tours can be reserved at 604-932-3434.

September berry forecast

The availability of huckleberry/blueberry (Vaccinium spp.), the vital fall food for bears, is dependent on weather. If drought conditions continue into mid-September bears may lose the mountain (> 1,500-metre elev.) berry crop. Drought conditions dry out berries causing them to shrivel and drop. Berry size is also limited because during heat waves stressed huckleberry plants direct life-saving energy to the shrub not to berry size. Balanced rainfall yields plump berries and/or berries in partial shade at north and east aspects.

When huckleberries do deplete either naturally (in late September) or from excessive weather then mountain ash berries replace the huckleberry. Orange clusters of mountain ash range in great abundance from valley bottom to the sub-alpine.

Bear Encounters and Reports

If you encounter a bear close (< 20-metres) and you can see its face, speak calmly and loud enough that the bear will hear you and turn slightly to move away. Turning your body eliminates the threatening posture of facing a bear. If a bear approaches act big, noisy, and threatening – remain facing the bear and stand your ground.

If you are ever physically attacked by a black bear fight back, striking the bear in the face. To my knowledge no one has ever been injured in Whistler by a black bear.

To help with the monitoring of valley bear activity and input to conservation data you may report bear family sightings including very small (dog-size) and very large-size black bears. Thanks to everyone for their information, photos, and even stopping me in the street to contribute.

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