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bear update

Bear Update: By Michael Allen Black Bear Researcher Welcome to the fourth Bear Update column from the Whistler Ecosystem Black Bear Project. May traditionally begins the heavy grazing period when bears can be seen throughout the valley in the early mornings and evenings feeding in swamp and grassland clearings. Sightings of bears are more frequent as concentrated, high quality food resources become more widespread, allowing animals to spend more time feeding than wandering in search of food. This is also the time when the bear population undergoes changes in its social structure. Adult males begin to roam and overlap areas of sexually mature adult females (more than three years old), sometimes following female scent trails for several kilometres. The mating period in Whistler begins around the middle of May and lasts until mid-July. Mating initiates courting between adults. Adult females with yearlings (cubs that have denned with their mothers and emerge as one year olds) undergo family break up when a mother is receptive to an adult male. She drives off her young, abruptly causing her son to move outside her territory. Daughters are allowed to stay within their mother’s territory and even allowed to feed at the mother’s feeding sites. The mother will maintain her distance, but remain inside her own territory. Yearling males that are leaving their mothers are most vulnerable at this time of year. The young males are thrust out of their mother’s territory and into the general bear population with no established areas of their own. They are often driven to areas like Whistler, where food — both natural and man-made — is abundant and, more importantly, there is a lesser chance of encountering an adult male. Adult males usually prefer to avoid human areas. Adult males that encounter younger wandering males consider them competition and will chase them out of their area or kill them. Families and adult females prefer to live in areas inhabited by humans than encroach on an adult male’s territory. The danger in this is that cubs which are raised in close proximity to humans tend to become used to them and garbage as a source of food. There has been a sharp rise in bear activity in the Whistler Valley due to most bears shaking off the effects of the post-hibernation grogginess. They are now ready to begin the heavy grazing on new green vegetation so abundant along Whistler’s valley floor and adjacent snow-free ski runs. Now, more than ever, is the time to consistently store and dump your garbage properly. Bears are rediscovering old reliable garbage sites and learning new sites. Whatever method works for you, dumping garbage daily at the compactors or storing it for a week and then dumping it, the garbage must never sit outside — not even during the day. Storing and dumping garbage in Whistler may be looked upon as a hassle and inconvenience, especially to those without transportation, but in the long run it is the only bear management tool that will alleviate the bear-garbage attraction. Conservation officers are already trapping bears in the valley. The effects of poor garbage management, especially at the compactors, are taking their toll on the bear population again this year. Just remember the destruction and relocation of bears is a product of mismanagement, not the fault of the RCMP or conservation officers. They are responding to complaints and usually have to react to a situation that could have been prevented. Remember: the only bear-proof dumpsters in Whistler are the empty or secured ones. Michael Allen can be heard on Mountain FM’s Mountain Monitor program the fourth Tuesday of each month. Listen May 28 at noon.