By Michael Allen
I have spent the last 22 years observing and photographing black bears in B.C., and now in Whistler I’ve managed to follow several bears for over half (9-14 years) of their lifetime. My goal is to know a bear its whole life (20-25+ years). I’m not a biologist nor bear expert, rather, a person that is interested enough in bears to try and improve public understanding by capturing the longevity of bear-life through the camera lens.
In 2006, I identified a minimum of 80 black bears (39 M, 40 F, and 1 unknown cub) during 266 bear viewing tours, and 22 surveys at the Fairmont Chateau Golf Course, 20 surveys at the Whistler Golf Course, 20 surveys at the landfill, and incidental observations throughout the valley and Whistler Interpretive Forest.
All bears were “known”, meaning previously identified in other years, with the exception of new cubs. Eighty-five per cent (68 of 80) of the bears were black and the rest were different shades of brown. Bear class composition was 16 adult males, 22 adult females, 16 sub-adults, and 26 cubs-of-the-year (COY). These numbers always represent the minimum number of bears as I estimate there to be another 15-30 bears within the roughly 165-km 2 Resort Municipality of Whistler, depending on the year (food supply, cub production, and sub-adult dispersal).
Of the 22 females, 36 per cent (8) produced 26 cubs with an average litter size of 1.9 cubs. Survival rate as of October 2006 (from cubs born January 2006) was 85 per cent. Three cubs were assumed lost to adult male aggression (based on pre- and post- observations) during mid-May to mid-July breeding period, and one was struck by a vehicle.
Males began 2007 by emerging from winter dens in mid-March. There was periodic activity over winter from three males. One of these winter-active males, was found dead in the Whistler Wildlife Preserve from bacterial pneumonia, likely a complication from cancer that was detected in a tissue sample taken from his lymph node. This bear had a history of heavy garbage feeding in the valley.
The higher snowpack this spring will affect seasonal bear activity in three ways: 1) a higher concentration of bears may graze longer in the valley this spring; 2) mothers with cubs may emerge later in mid-May; and 3) blooming and ripening of berries may be delayed into September at higher elevations (> 1,200-metres).
For dominant bears, seasonal activity is governed by food availability, while for sub-adult and young adults spatial relationships (hierarchy) with other bears is important. Expect the valley to get busy with bears as green-up space becomes lush this month, however, nine bears were removed in 2006 (and two males this spring), so that may lower bear activity.
We can also expect a boost of “teenage” bears as 22 2006-cubs are pushed from eight mothers and a minimum of another eight expecting moms from 2006 will emerge later in May with cubs. Having high berry crops two years in a row can significantly boost the immature bear class. If this fall’s berry crop is lower, it may help check breeding females this year, lowering litter sizes and increasing mortality of 2006 yearlings.
To increase awareness of resident bears, education programs continue through Pique Newsmagazine (bear update columns), community schools, Mountain FM radio, ski area bear viewing, Australian visitor lecture series, Envirofest, Whistler Museum and Archives, Millennium Place, and assorted private/conference presentations. In 2006, 14,000 people were addressed directly on Whistler bear awareness.
An exhibit, Photographing Black Bears, will be on display at Millennium Place during May illustrating the diversity of bear appearance and activity.
Remember, the most vital contribution you can make to supporting healthy black bear populations in the Sea to Sky corridor, is to keep garbage, recycling, bird feeders, and other attractants away from bears. Don’t store garbage for long periods inside any building and don’t leave windows and doors open if you experience weekly bear activity.
If you have questions about bears e-mail me at email@example.com