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Bear Update: Snowpack limits feeding areas for moms



A semi-continuous snowpack at lower to mid-mountain due to colder temperatures is limiting grazing for emerging ski area female bears. Males grazing valley bottom have it easier than females who remain above the valley (to avoid males).

Of the 16 adult females resident to the ski area, seven individuals have been identified - Bella (+2 cubs), Katie (no cubs), Alice (no cubs), Elly (+2-2 year olds), Cassie (+2 cubs), Daisy (+2 yearlings), and Brownie (+2 cubs).

Elly emerged with 29-month-old cubs (born January 2007) and separated with them on May 15.

Daisy emerged with two yearlings (born January 2008) and began family separation on May 17.

Cassie lost her one cub in 2008 then bred in the same season, only to have two cubs in January 2009.

As the ski trails green-up, more resident females should be identified.

Moms with COY (cubs-of-the-year) like to keep to the peripheries of concentrations of bears to lessen the likelihood of running into male bears at the initial stage of emergence when cubs are very small (< 15 lbs.). Only two (Jeanie and Amy) mothers recently (last three years) have fed at golf courses, resulting in many stressful encounters with males.

I have not yet seen Jeanie (as of May 18) and I'm thinking she likely has cubs to be emerging/active so late. Government researchers would know her location from the GPS collar but I don't have access to that data.

In 2000, I did not see Jeanie until early June when she arrived with a single cub (Jake) at 1,200-metres elevation due to another late snowpack.

Mothers have to be conscious of their movements in spring, limiting activity to smaller feeding areas to reduce the number of potential encounters with males (that could try to kill cubs), compensate for the small size of cubs (7-15 lbs.) which restricts their ability to travel long distances, and conserve calories to allow for maintenance of strength and milk production. Mothers' best strategy is to hold up in a few familiar feeding areas that have adequate escape cover (large trees for cub defense) and near water sources. In spring, mothers consume the greatest amount of water of any other bear class (age and sex).

Mid-May has seen a few males already traveling through female feeding areas to inventory potential mates for June breeding. One male (with both ears tagged), harassed Elly to the point where her 2-year-old son and daughter fled, initiating family break-up.

Another impact from the prolonged snowpack will be a delay in summer berry ripening. The longer the snowpack covers berry patches at (and above) 1,500 metres elevation, the later the berries will ripen into fall, instead of late summer. That could give us some conflict activity in August similar to the years 1999, 2007, and 2008.

As of May 18, 38 different black bears - eight large males, five younger adult males, nine adult females, 10 sub-adults, and six cubs -have been identified at ski area, golf course, and residential greenbelt feeding areas.

Another two litters of cubs were reported by reliable sources but need to be confirmed by me. Because I base my bear research on observations and photography, I always need to personally confirm identification of an individual bear. Because I am the sole observer to confirm identity (for my observations), I have maintained a constant rigor in testing and maintaining accuracy to recognize individual bears each season of the last 16 years.

Questions or bear family sightings call 604-698-6709 or e-mail