Whistler Black Bear Project
The WBBP is forecasting an early emergence for black bears denning within the RMOW. This forecast is based on four conditions: 1) absence of September 2004 berry crop, 2) absence of February protective snow pack at bear dens, 3) absence of snow cover at early spring (low elevation) bear feeding sites, and 4) historic use of non-natural foods (bird feeders and grass) by bears in urban habitats. These conditions may act alone or unify to force bears from dens earlier, in late February and March, rather than their typical den emergence period in April.
Non-denning Bears in January
A minimum of three male black bears were non-denning in January 2005. A sub-adult and adult (separate) were located between Nordic Estates and Fitzsimmons Creek/Lost Lake. A third, older adult male had moved into the commercial greenbelt of Marketplace. He was removed and euthanized by a B.C. Conservation Officer due to his emaciated body condition. By late January the first two bears could not be tracked or located after heavy rains melted snow cover. A sub-adult male that was previously relocated to Cat Lake from Whistler Marketplace in late November 2004 was periodically active in Paradise Valley from Dec. 1 to Jan 26. During the last observation, I estimated 40 per cent of his body was absent of guard hair and under fur. Efforts were made to trap him and check his condition but he did not return.
Emaciated Adult Male
On Jan. 14 the adult male at Marketplace was euthanized after being observed for several days in deteriorating condition. This bear appeared old, weak, and underweight. He was a "known" or marked animal from the Whistler landfill sub-population and was photographed in spring 2004 with obvious swellings on each side of his muzzle. A necropsy performed by myself and Kristi Bane-Allen (DVM) revealed a previous fracture involving the hard palate and muzzle bones. We speculate that due to this injury he could not forage efficiently to gain weight during 2004. The situation was exacerbated by the impact of the fall berry shortage. Contents of the bears rectum were plastic, paper (napkins), and small fragments of sand and gravel. The bears skull, skeleton, and heart were preserved for scientific record and education. A premolar tooth will be extracted to determine the bears age. The gall bladder was removed and disposed of in the presence of a B.C. Conservation Officer.
As of mid-February, one 2-year-old black bear has been observed bedding and feeding (on grass and bird seed) in Whistler valley. I am expecting more bears to emerge from exposed dens and move down to early spring food sources. Bear foods available are skunk cabbage (leaf tips), pussy willows, and grass. Golf courses that usually attract bears in April have grasses available now for grazing. Historic use of bird feeders by bears has reinforced bears knowledge and increased use of this early spring attractant. Please remove bird and squirrel feeders as they attract bears to houses.
The one-three weeks following den emergence are tiresome for bears. They spend up to 20 hours a day sleeping at daybeds. Favoured locations for daybeds are timbered ridges with outcrops where mature and old growth trees exist for security, and partially exposed ridges that allow bears to sun themselves. Many residential communities in Whistler are constructed in historic and active bear bedding habitats.
Finally, a scruffy-looking bear in spring does in no way indicate sickness or injury. Bears emerge with hair loss around their eyes and muzzle (from ticks and mites) and are in the process of shedding out winter fur.
Bear Sightings Important
Bear sightings are important in helping to identify and re-sight "known" or marked animals in the population. Please report bear sightings this spring as information is used to determine survival of bears following the 2004 poor fall berry crop and structure of the spring resident population. Please note relative size, colour, markings, and activity, location, date, and time. Everyones input is thoroughly appreciated.
Michael Allen has been studying the behaviour, population, and denning ecology of Whistler black bears since 1994. Project sponsors for Year 11 (2004) were Whistler-Blackcomb Mountains, Resort Municipality of Whistler, Community Foundation of Whistler, Whistler Bear Working Group, Whistler Museum and Archives Society, and Pique Newsmagazine. For more information contact 604-902-1660 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.