Text and photo by Michael Allen
Amy, a 6-year-old pregnant adult female, consumes roughly 1,000 berries per hour (depending on patch size and quality) during the 29th day of berry feeding at high elevation (> 1,400-metres) berry patches throughout the north side of Whistler Mountain. Bear-berry studies have been intensively conducted on Whistler Mountain since 1998. The huckleberry/blueberry crop is now at its peak and the secondary berry Sitka mountain ash is ripening. Bears are at their mid-point in the berry season, usually getting about 60 days of berry feeding above mid-mountain in a good year.
Below mid-mountain ( < 1,200-metres) the berry crop was about 60 per cent and above mid-mountain berries have ripened consistently in plots to 90 per cent. It's always the high elevation berry crop that makes or breaks bear behavior and biology in Whistler. Berry patches are more concentrated and productive at higher elevations, allowing bears to maintain an energy efficient foraging strategy.
Since Aug. 11, 34 different bears have been identified to use 4 square kilometres of berry producing landscape on the north side of Whistler Mountain where bear use of berries has been monitored since 1998. In any three-hour period usually at least 10 bears can be foraging a 2-4 square kilometre area. It takes bears about 2-4 weeks to exhaust the peak berry crop.
If draught conditions continue, berries will begin depleting (shriveling) before bears can consume them all. Rain would help slow down the depletion rate of berries. After huckleberry/blueberry, bears typically forage mountain ash berries into early October. Bear activity in Whistler Valley typically falls during September but usually jumps in October as huckleberry runs out and bears experienced in getting garbage from previous years, enter the valley in search of human foods.