By Michael Allen
Whistler Black Bear Project
May sets the pace for the start of the bear season as most
bears have emerged from winter dens.
You can always tell a bear that has just emerged within the
last two weeks because a ring of missing hair will be worn around the bear’s
eyes and a stripe down the bridge of the nose. Hair loss is from mite and tick
irritation during winter while bears retaliate by scratching, rubbing, and by
mothers licking the cub’s face clean.
The last bears to emerge now are mothers with newborn cubs
(born January-early February). The forecast this spring is for 13-26 cubs, if
13 pregnant females last fall each gave birth to 1-2 cubs this winter.
Mom’s wait to emerge for a few months so that cubs are large
enough (9-16 lbs.) and mobile enough to escape threats by climbing trees.
Mother’s also need access to sufficient food to begin
replenishing their milk supply. Winter snow pack and rate of spring thaw
dictates where bears can feed in May. Early spring has been cooler than normal
and green-up is limited but becoming quite concentrated in the valley bottom.
Virtually anywhere that has lush, new green growth is potential bear food. The
that is that bears
lack the complex stomach of a deer, to digest cellulose, the major building
block of plant cell walls. The more mature a plant is the more cellulose.
Therefore, bears need to consume plants in their earliest stages of growth to
get the most digestible energy.
Bear food plants in May are skunk cabbage, pussy willows,
grass, clover, horsetail, dandelion flowers, sedge, weeds, and huckleberry flowers.
SADIE, the oldest mother bear I study, consumes vast amounts of the weed Lamb’s
As May progresses and snow melts, bears follow the progression
of green-up back up mountains and drainages. However, because green-up is now
taking place close to people, there is more potential disturbance to bears.
Bears will graze any green-up and common areas are lower ski
slopes, golf courses, playgrounds/fields, residential roadsides/ditches, valley
trails, and riparian areas (water active). Grazing green-up usually lures bears
into openings, making them easier to see than any other time of year. That
works to our advantage when encountering bears, but also increases exposure to
bears and disturbance.
We need to accept that bears will be seen grazing very close to
roads, trails, parks, and back yards. They are not endangering anyone and in
the last 13 years I have not seen a problem originating from grazing activity
in valley green-up areas.
Because bears begin their year in close proximity to people we
need to make a good, healthy, first impression. You guessed it: no human food,
garbage, or recycling should be left outside. That means on the deck, in the
driveway, or in the backyard. And bird feeders should not be used. To ensure a
healthy year for bears, and us, means to
consistently keep human foods away
. If you maintain a clean
outdoor area you are teaching bears that our home/yard is free of anything
The bottom line: we do not want to lure bears from grazing in
the valley to eating human foods in the valley. As Whistler has been developed
with obvious green space in mind that space will always contain vegetation that
Remember, bears die in Whistler for one reason — us.
Over the next few weeks flowers of huckleberry and blueberry,
the key summer-fall berry for bears, will open, signaling the pollination
process and the cycle of the bee, the berry, and the bear cub. A presentation
on the behavior of Whistler black bears, sponsored by Whistler Museum and
Archives, will be presented at MY Place on May 20.
possible by Pique Newsmagazine. Michael Allen has been studying the behavior
and ecology of black bears close to people in B.C. for 20 years.