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Food-conditioned bears avoiding hibernation

But denning up for the winter is a vital skill critical for bruins’ survival, says WildSafeBC
On Dec. 29, 2021, Kimberley resident Loni Nicholson took to Facebook to report a black bear sighting outside of her home. Video footage and this photo shows the bear wandering around the front yard. (Loni Nicholson/Facebook file)

A black bear was spotted roaming around Kimberley last week, when the temperature reached -25 degrees celsius, and WildSafeBC says it might be a sign that the bear is food conditioned.

On Dec. 29, 2021, Kimberley resident Loni Nicholson took to Facebook to report a black bear sighting outside of her home. Video footage and photos show the bear wandering around the front yard.

“I do not have specific information on this particular bear. There were quite a few bears still active late into December,” said Vanessa Isnardy, WildSafeBC Program Manager in an email to the Townsman. “The recent cold weather has resulted in more bears seeking out dens. Bears will remain active in communities if they are able to successfully find food near people, so it is vital that all attractants are secured.”

According to the WildSafeBC Wildlife Alert Reporting Program (WARP) website, a black bear was reported in Kimberley by the Conservation Officer Service on the same day. The notes on the WARP website say that the bear is injured/distressed. It is not known if the same black bear posted by Nicholson is the black bear on the WARP website. The COS has been reached for confirmation with no response.

The WARP website also shows a grizzly bear sighting in Fernie on Dec. 30, 2021, with garbage listed as the attractant.

On Dec. 29, a young moose was also seen roaming around Cranbrook. It is listed on the WARP website as orphaned. On Dec. 30, a WARP posting also shows the moose closer to the Community Forest on the outskirts of town.

Isnardy says that the vast majority of bears do know that they need to seek out a den for the winter.

“It is an amazing adaptation they have developed over their evolution to deal with less food availability,” said Isnardy. “It is vital for female sows that are expecting young that are born in the den in late January.

“Unlike cougars and wolves that remain active over the winter and may even have an advantage over their prey species during this time of year, a bear’s diet is about 80 per cent plant-based (a bit more animal protein for grizzly bears, especially large males). However, we interfere with this behaviour when we allow unnatural food sources to remain available to them. In milder climates, such as the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, we may see a few bears still remaining active but they are a small percentage.”

When asked what happens to bears that cannot find a suitable den, Isnardy said it’s a good question.

“It is a critical skill they need for survival. It is best not to intervene. However, orphaned cubs of the year that are doing poorly may need further consideration,” she explained.

Isnardy says that if the public has concerns about a bear cub in winter, it is best to call the Conservation Officer Service and do the following:

1. DO NOT try to approach, capture or feed the cub. The cub’s best chances of survival is to not become habituated to people or feed on non-natural food sources.

2. DO report the cub to the RAPP line (1-877-952-7277) so that the Conservation Officer Service has up to date information on its whereabouts and can assess for the appropriate response.

3. DO provide information as to its size (e.g., large house cat, medium-sized dog, large dog), and its behaviour (feeding on natural foods, getting into unsecured garbage, lethargic etc).

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Corey Bullock

About the Author: Corey Bullock

Corey Bullock is a multimedia journalist and writer who grew up in Burlington, Ontario.
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