This year’s drought means black bears in Sun Peaks struggle to find enough food before hibernation, which could impact their ability to reproduce in spring.
Black bear sightings in the fall and spring are common in Sun Peaks, but Sun Peaks Bear Aware (SPBA) is asking residents and visitors to be extra vigilant with lower than expected food supply for the animals. Bears are actively preparing for hibernation, and one of the most essential sources for them comes from berries. However, a researcher examining bear scat in Sun Peaks has found worryingly low amounts of berries in samples this summer.
Olivier Jumeau, whose research focuses on black bear scat in Sun Peaks, has only found two samples this summer with berry consumption.
“This is much lower than expected, and the bears appear to be turning to alternative food sources to compensate. For example, wasp larvae consumption has been higher than expected during normal berry season,” Jumeau wrote in an email.
Tony Hamilton is a retired large carnivore specialist of the BC Ministry of Environment, and he said one critical aspect of berry availability for both black and grizzly bears across the province relates to reproduction.
“It’s a very highly nutritive food available at the time of year pre-hibernation. If it fails, then there could be a lack of pregnancies over the winter and births in the spring. [Food scarcity] can be so severe that the adult females don’t get what they need [to reproduce]. ”
Bears have delayed implantation, according to Hamilton, which means that while mating occurs in the spring, a fertilized egg doesn’t implant until a female gains enough weight in the fall to sustain herself and the pregnancy during hibernation.
Bears’ reproduction cycle is an evolutionary adaptation that allows for annual berry crop fluctuations. However, Hamilton said climate change-induced droughts and forest fires reduce the food available for black bears in our region.
Hamilton said there are multiple reasons bears are often seen throughout Sun Peaks. The first is that female bears and their cubs put themselves close to humans as protection from other bears but also because of the rich natural food supply, be it berries in backyards or vegetation along highways.
“Experienced females will bring their cubs into close contact with people to take advantage of the food but gain the extra benefit of security.”
Garbage not stored properly
SPBA recently responded to an incident on Burfield Drive where residents had left garbage outside, and a bear accessed it as a food source.
Karen Lara, an SPBA representative, said it took twenty minutes for volunteers to clean up the garbage before the black bear was back. The organization contacted the conservation officer and detailed the incident. A fine was also issued to the residence using Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality’s solid waste bylaw.
“People can’t be naive in assessing how rapidly a bear can get into garbage. It will frequently return to that spot because once it’s accessible, it’s highlighted in their brains as an optimal food source,” Lara said.
After the incident, the organization canvassed the neighbourhood to inform them about the bear’s activity. The municipality and SPR LLP assisted SPBA in producing and placing more signage where the bear accessed garbage.
Contacting conservation authorities is vital in protecting bears and humans from harm.
“People have this perception that the conservation officers are going to sweep in and shoot bears,” Hamilton said.
But that perception is inaccurate in Hamilton’s experience and could do more harm than good.
“By not calling in a sighting or all the way through to a conflict, the conservation officers don’t have any opportunities to intervene early. If you want to have a non-lethal response to human-bear conflict, you have to do it at first contact,” Hamilton said.
He went on to say bear behaviours can be reversed when caught early, teaching them to stop associating humans with food and increasing their weariness around humans.
To learn more about how you can prevent bears from being attracted to your property, read SPIN’s previous coverage.
To report bear sightings to the conservation officer, call 1-877-952-7277.
Help us bring you more local news
SPIN has been able to serve Sun Peaks as its sole news source for over 20 years thanks to the overwhelming support of our community. Join over 126 of your neighbours and become a monthly or yearly member so that we can continue to regularly publish the digital newsletters and stories our readers rely on.