BEAR UPDATE: Knowing valley berries for black bears Michael Allen Black Bear Researcher Despite cooler temperatures and cloudier days during spring through summer, all berries which black bears feed on are now ripe throughout Whistler Valley. Valley berry ripening was one month late with scattered huckleberry failures from low (600-metres) to mid-elevations (1,100-metres) and a two-month delay of ripening at higher elevations (> 1,400-metres) but, with a full crop. Expect very high bear activity in the valley as bears forage for the scattered thickets of ripe huckleberries as well as abundant mountain ash and dogwood berries. Berries are the only natural food which make Whistler bears fat. Bears need to be very fat (gaining 50-100 pounds) for a successful winter sleep and pregnancy. Below are the main berries which bears feed on in Whistler valley from September through November. Oval-Leaved Blueberry (Vaccinium ovalifolium) These blue-coloured berries are usually the first of the huckleberries to ripen during July in the Whistler Valley. Berries are glaucus, meaning they have a white powdered film which you can wipe off with your fingers. Mountain Huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) Purplish or reddish black berries are the sweetish and the most important to bears for gaining weight. Bear droppings or scats are purple to black piles of deflated berries. Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) These red berries are the last of the huckleberries to ripen during August. Red huckleberry grows throughout valley to lower slope elevations. Scats are red. Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia) These sweet purple berries resemble little apples especially when they’re red and ripening. The shrub-dominated habitats along the Westside Road have a huge abundance. Sitka Mountain-Ash (Sorbus sitchensis) These tart to bitter-sweet orange berries are available to bears in large clusters, which makes it easy for bears to consume great quantities in a short time. Scats are orange or red piles of deflated berries. Red-Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) White clusters of berries are available from late August through October from the most abundant large shrub in the Whistler Valley. Dogwood forms dense, hedge-type thickets around parks, valley trails and residential forests. Bears often sit and sleep inside thickets for hours while feeding. Scats are a white pile of berries. Highbush-Cranberry (Viburnum edule) Clusters of bright orange to red drupe-like berries are available to bears from late summer through fall to spring. These single-seeded berries are hardy enough to over-winter when bears feed on them again in April. If you encounter a bear feeding and he doesn't see you, leave the area quietly. If he sees you stop, never approach for any reason and walk away slowly while talking to the bear in a moderate voice. Bears may pop their jaws (open and close their mouths very fast) and swat at the ground — this is not over aggression. The bear is communicating that you are too close because you are still standing there. Talk quietly while walking away slowly. If a bear approaches, act big and aggressive. Wave your arms with a stick over your head and yell at the bear but, continue walking backwards. Always give the bear an escape route and lots of space. If a bear is attacking and/or charging close throw something at the ground between to distract him. If a bear continues get somewhere safe or fight back hitting him in the face. Never run and never play dead. The history between bears and people is good. If bears know we are close by they will and do tolerate us more than we will them. Store securely, all organic attractants (food waste, re-cycling, pet foods including bird seed, barbecues, and fertilizers) and dump garbage as soon as possible. Bears can detect garbage odours through building walls. Whistler black bear research is funded by Coast Mountain Black Bear Resources. Bear ecology displays can be viewed at the Whistler Museum in the valley and on Whistler Mountain at the Roundhouse Lodge. Bear Update columns are sponsored by Pique Newsmagazine. Questions or information about bears and/or to report sightings call 935-1176.