Whistler’s colder temperatures and extended snowpack are limiting green-up and grazing areas for emerging bears. As of May 13, I have identified a minimum of 28 bears (18M, 10F) below 800-metres elevation through valley bottom. Green-up is about 1-2 weeks behind in the valley and 3-4 weeks behind in the ski areas.
Skunk cabbage, pussy willows, grass, clover, and dandelions are available in the valley but, extended snowpack from an above normal snowfall in the valley with a very gradual thaw is covering almost all of early to mid-May feeding sites on lower ski trails. Expect bear activity to climb through May as bears are forced to crowd valley bottom feeding areas.
Vaccinium (huckleberry and blueberry) phenology is already 1-3 weeks behind. Vaccinium is the most important berry to Whistler bears and is too often susceptible to failed or late crops due to extreme scales of weather (too much rain or sun).
Our bear population is uniquely adapted to feeding in recreation areas. When you begin to walk, jog, bike, ride, or golf remember, recreation areas overlap high quality seasonal bear feeding areas. Many bike trails and all golf courses are in prime spring feeding space. Bears become habituated to our presence (and less secure open areas) each spring to benefit the easily digested young plants. And in spring, all bears are stressed and many are underweight — hibernation is not an easy accomplishment.
When golfing, give bears lots of space and do not approach to take closer photographs. Take photos from where you are on the green. Most bears graze along the fairway and along the fairway’s perimeter on grass, clover, and dandelions. Keep your food (on the cart) to a minimum and use the garbage containers (but not if they are overflowing). We want the bears to use the green-up on a course, but not to associate a golf course with garbage.
Walking up and photographing bears can sometimes trigger curiosity in the bear. Male bears have often approached and even followed a person for a short distance (while hiking, walking, or golfing). If a bear does approach, get a bunch of people together and shout at him waving your arms. Golf courses have excellent forage value for bears and I have known at least 10 large dominant males for greater than eight years that have thrived on courses each spring while causing no conflicts elsewhere. Golf courses should be responsible to have staff instructed each spring on bear behaviour and how to mitigate potential conflicts. Golf courses will receive high bear activity through May and June.
Mountain bike trails, for obvious reasons, meander through all seasons of bear habitat. I have even seen bike trails constructed right in front of the entrances to winter dens. Bikes offer the greatest intrusion into bear space because of the speed and frequency in which they have the potential to startle bears. Bikes can be quiet on trails with poor visibility, which also leads to sudden encounters. Noise makers on bikes help if you are riding near skunk cabbage swamps or concentrated green-up. The human voice is always best over or in combination with bells.