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NatureSpeak Articles

Bear Necessities

PHOTO BY: MICHAEL ALLEN - BEAR AWARE: Spring hasn't quite arrived, but some bears may be out and about in the Sea to Sky corridor already.

Wherever I wander, wherever I roam, I couldn't be fonder of my big home. These wonderful few weeks with crisp nights and sunny days have found me thinking about the "bear" necessities. I'm not quite ready to let go of the snow season, but I'm excited for the warmer weather and longer days. With our bracingly cold dose of Arctic outflow earlier in the season, and these last few weeks full of blissfully blue days, it seems I'm not the only one who is getting ready for the incoming season.

Generally, as the tender shoots of skunk cabbage appear in the spring, bears become more active. Male bears usually emerge first in March or April while females with cubs wait until April or May. Whistler's bears are likely still snuggled up, dozing peacefully in their dens. Any new mums may be having a less restful sleep, nursing her new cubs born in January or February.

As an early rising surprise for our northern neighbours, there have already been bears spotted in Pemberton and D'Arcy. Many factors can drive bears from their dens earlier in the year. When food is scarce in the fall, winters are unseasonably warm, or food is present in the area, bears may shorten or even forgo their winter dormancy.

Even if they get a lengthy winter nap, bears aren't true hibernators. Some mammals such as bats and marmots enter a hibernation in which their temperature can drop below freezing and they aren't woken by loud noises or even touch. In this "true" hibernation, animals regularly wake and move every few days or weeks—eating small amounts, passing waste, and increasing body temperature to near normal before returning to hibernation.

Mammals such as bears and chipmunks, however, hibernate differently, entering a state known as torpor. During torpor, heart rate, breathing, and body temperatures still decrease; a chipmunk's hard-working heart, for instance, can slow from 350 beats per minute (bpm) in warmer months to as little as four. While animals in torpor don't eat, drink, or pass waste, they can wake quickly if hurt or threatened.

Whistler's resident bear expert Michael Allen tracked 35 adult black bears in 2018, the lowest number in 25 years of monitoring. Only 10 years ago, this number was almost 80. One reason for the decline is that Whistler has become a hot spot for bear conflict, so it's always worth refreshing yourself on bear safety, particularly at the beginning of bear season.

Ensure bears never have access to food or garbage. Clean up food waste outdoors, scrub barbecues after use, and hang food away from sleeping areas while camping.

Give bears as much space as possible, as they habituate quickly to humans. On the trail, carry bear spray in an easily accessible location, stay alert, and make noise so you don't surprise them.

Keep dogs on leash.

If you do encounter a bear, don't run. Stay calm and back away slowly. If we all stay bear aware, we'll be able to enjoy these beautiful animals for many years to come.

Written by: Mallory Lakins


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