As the onset of spring struggles between near freezing nights, showery days and sunny afternoon break-ups, black bears in Whistler push back into their seasonal mode of early grazing at low elevation (< 800-metres) green-up.
Bear activity is limited to crepuscular periods (dusk and dawn) at golf courses, lower slopes of Whistler-Blackcomb, and skunk cabbage swampland throughout the Interpretive Forest and valley bottom of Whistler. Early spring foods are skunk cabbage, pussy willows, and emerging horsetail, grass, and clover.
As green-up progresses through residential green-belt bears are attracted to carpets of clover, horsetail, and dandelion flowers. Bears will also forage for tiny, inverted huckleberry flowers. As flowers open for bumble bee/honey bee pollination bears carefully, but efficiently, lick the flowers from their stem. Its ironic that bears consume the very flower that yields their most important food plant.
The drive for clover and dandelion flowers is what attracts many bears through residential greenbelt. The main human-food attractant and I say it every spring is bird feeders, which lead to bears nosing around for garbage. Wooden sheds and garages are not bear proof, and therefore not good for storing garbage. Its difficult to stop some bears that are foraging close to houses from checking if attractants are available. The only single tool that currently can successfully deter bears from feeding on human-food attractants is having no attractants available.
I have identified a minimum of 15 bears in Whistler Valley, with bears emerging and increasing their activity every day. Feeding activity is about 6-8 hours a day. Expected cub production this spring should be low from the extended draught last summer-fall and the resulting poor berry crop. A minimum of nine females entered dens seemly pregnant (observed breeding activity). Mothers with COY (cubs-of-the-year) are the last to emerge in spring, during early May in the valley and mid- to late May above 1,000-meters elevation. Mothers are being observed with yearlings (last years cubs) that will typically leave the family unit during late May through late June. Because some expected pregnant females have not been identified this leads to the assumption that they have in fact produced a litter and are still at their den sites.
One concern is that resident female Jeanie on Whistler Mountain has emerged with no observed yearlings. Jeanie entered her den around Dec. 20 last fall. She emerged during mid-April having only hibernated for four months or less. Where her two brown yearlings are remains a mystery. I have not seen them in her company. She has been active in around the base of Whistler-Blackcomb grazing the first snow-free and green-up trails .
If anyone observes a group of three brown-phase black bears or any family unit could they please call me at 604-902-1660.
Bear education programs underway this spring are MPCS classroom awareness and field trips sponsored by the Resort Municipality of Whistler. Bear camps for adults and kids for late May and early June are offered through Whistler Parks and Recreation. The Whistler Museum and Archives is sponsoring a black bear workshop series every third Tuesday at the Whistler Delta Village Suites across from the Museum on Main Street. The next topic is Bear Trails through Whistler Valley on May 20 at 7 p.m. At Capilano College in North Vancouver I am also teaching three classroom courses on bear behaviour and ecology from 7-9 p.m. on the Tuesdays of May 27, June 3, and June 10. These courses are open to students and the public. Whistler-Blackcomb bear viewing begins June 1.
Thanks to Pique Newsmagazine for sponsorship of Bear Update columns.