Bear Update: Knowing bear signs prevents confrontations By Michael Allen Black Bear Researcher In 1995 I witnessed a very dangerous confrontation between a large adult black bear and two children that could have had a devastating outcome. In early September the red-osier dogwood berries are ripe along the valley floor. Bears seek these white berries out from August to October. Dogwood shrubs grow in large clumps or in walls of hedges around 1 to 5 metres high. They border many of the valley’s park playgrounds and trails. At 6:30 p.m. one day in Alpha Lake parking lot I discovered a large adult bear sitting inside a hedge feeding. It was oblivious to people passing by. The only evidence of the feeding bear was a flash of black and the rustling of leaves. Often it would stick its head up out of the hedge to smell a person passing by. I walked about 10 metres down the hedge and cut through the bushes to see if anyone was on the other side of the parking lot. Just as I was coming out the other side two young girls, around six or eight years of age, came racing toward me, right alongside the hedge and the feeding bear. The girls stopped 3 metres past the bear. The bushes were still rustling behind them where the bear was feeding. I started to walk quickly toward them. I was about 5 metres away when their mother yelled from the car in the parking lot for them to come back, it was time to go. The girls screeched and laughed and went running down alongside the hedge. The closest girl to the hedge was running her hand along the leaves of the dogwood branches. I saw the rustling of the branches stop as the girls passed near the bear. The distance between the bear and the girls as they passed one another was less than 1 metre. The girls reached the parking lot and I began walking after them. As I passed the hedge where the bear was, I veered outwards a few metres and dropped to my knees, peering up into the dense tangle of branches. I had expected the bear to be gone, but instead it was standing stiff-legged, alert and very quiet — characteristic behaviour prior to a charge. The bear had experienced a sudden interaction with a human and was prepared to react. I calmly spoke to the bear and it began blowing and huffing and walked along the hedge, disappearing into the shrubbery on an adjacent lot. As I turned the family was driving away. I was frustrated that I couldn’t tell the mother and kids what just, and could have, happened. The best way to prevent potential confrontations like this is to learn the basic feeding habits of black bears during each season and the signs associated with those habits. In spring (April-June), bear droppings consist mostly of grasses and are dark green, brown and black. In summer and fall, droppings are black, dark blue and red, consisting mostly of berries. You should always be cautious around large areas of dense shrub over 1 metre in height, especially if you see droppings or any kind of fruit or berries. Remember three steps when confronting a bear: 1) STOP and remain calm and alert to the bear’s reaction to you. If a bear is blowing and popping his jaw he is upset that you are too close; this is not over-aggressiveness. 2) TALK: Intelligently (this calms you) in a voice for the bear to hear and identify you. If his head is down or if he’s behind a shrub talk loud enough so he knows you are there (his head will be facing you with his ears cupped forward). It is not aggressiveness when a bear stands, he’s just getting a better look or smell of you. 3) WALK backwards slowly. Keep watching the bear’s head but don’t stare him in the eyes. Put enough distance between you and the bear until he has settled down or left. If a bear has been used to getting garbage in an area and that garbage has been removed, any smaller sources of food will continue to attract him, such as bird and squirrel feeders and pet foods. Bears have learned to associate the sight of plastic bags and appliances with food. Appliances that store food should be kept in a secure building. Old freezers and fridges not in use should be washed with disinfectant and their doors removed, if kept outside. Direct bear education is lacking in Whistler. If you are having problems with bears at your residence and are unsure of the reasons a bear keeps returning, give me a call at 905-0093 and I can explain to you why or visit your residence and assess your situation. The information you give me about your problem with bears will help my research document bear-people relationships in Whistler, and the information I give you will help you to prevent problems and confrontations with black bears in your area. Michael Allen can be heard on Mountain FM’s Mountain Monitor program the fourth Tuesday of each month. Listen May 28 at noon.