Exactly what food is available for bears to enjoy will soon be known, thanks research on Sun Peaks bear poop to be done by a researcher at Thompson Rivers University (TRU).
Olivier Jumeau, a recent graduate from the geography department at TRU, is embarking on a research project exploring the diet of black bears living in Sun Peaks and whether the furry creatures’ proximity to the ski resort impacts their diet.
From May to August, Jumeau will visit Sun Peaks and take samples of bear scat, otherwise known as poo, to examine how the mighty creatures’ diet changes throughout the spring and summer.
“It’s a dietary analysis of black bears from the spring through to the end of summer, looking at how their diet changes depending on food type and whether the change in diet is similar to other bears away from ski areas,” Jumeau explained.
Jumeau has a mapped route throughout the village and the Nordic trails where black bears leave scat. If samples are fresh, he collects them in biohazard bags before transporting them back to the university for analysis.
One of the benefits of this studying bear poop is that the research is non-invasive to the animals.
“Scat analysis is a really good, non-invasive way to study a population of bears,” Jumeau explained. “I didn’t want to do any tracking or any tagging.”
Tracking and tagging can negatively impact bears.
Bones, berries, ants and mammal hair from fecal matter give dietary information, but Jumeau is also using the excrement to conduct a proportion analysis.
“We’re measuring how much of the scat is one food group,” he explained.
If the data garnered is substantial enough, he will also look at samples collected from a similar study conducted in Chilcotin, an area that does not have a ski resort in close proximity. This allows him to better understand whether bears’ diets change based on location.
He hopes his research project can engage people in Sun Peaks to understand how to co-exist with bears and the importance of maintaining abundant food sources for them.
“I want a well-presented understanding of how bear diets change and how complex these animals are – how important they are within an ecosystem, the range of foods that they eat and how important it is that we protect all of these food sources for them,” he said.
Jumeau is partnering with Sun Peaks Bear Aware (SPBA) for help spotting dung through a shared spreadsheet that identifies where bears have left their mark.
“From a personal perspective, Sun Peaks Bear Aware enables me to participate in community engagement, which is a really important part of science to me,” he said.
The relationship is nourishing for SPBA as well, according to Jumeau, who explained that his research will help the group advocate for bears within Sun Peaks. Jumeau will present his findings to the group and take part in information-sharing sessions at the farmer’s market in Sun Peaks this summer.
Partnering with Jumeau helps the community understand bears’ patterns and how humans can adjust to respect the animals who also call this land home, Irene Kastner from SPBA’s told SPIN.
“They’re wandering through the village looking for food,” She explained. “We have to be responsive to that and maybe change our patterns a bit.”
Bear sightings are a frequent occurrence in the village, but keeping a distance from the creatures and not habituating them to people’s presence (which includes not stopping to take photos) is important to keeping the bears and humans safe.
Kastner said she hopes Jumeau’s study will bring academic rigour to information about the bears diet and movements, some of which is already known by locals.
SPBA also hopes the study will help people become more attentive to their garbage storage, as the TRU study will show whether human food is in a bear’s diet.
“Right now, there’s no bear that goes into the garbage at this time,” Kastner explained. “But that is a huge issue because at that point, the bear is in danger, and the people are in danger.”
In the fall of 2021, a mother bear and two cubs in Sun Peaks were destroyed because the bears became too comfortable around people by accessing unnatural food sources, highlighting the responsibility that comes with living in Sun Peaks.
The number one responsibility is storing trash correctly so bears don’t have access to garbage that will make them used to humans.
In order to enforce bear aware concepts, a bylaw in Sun Peaks allows the municipality to fine anyone who stores garbage incorrectly.
Other tips include removing berries from bushes on your property, cleaning barbecues after cooking, ensuring bird feeders are out of reach or removing them from a property in bear season.
To learn more about becoming bear aware, whether you’re a long-time resident or new to the area, read SPIN’s coverage from last year.
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