Close Encounters of the Black Bear Kind

BB smallSeaside Times  January 2010

By Chris Genovali, Executive Director, Raincoast Conservation Foundation

The black bear poked his head around the big cedar stump and we stared at each other for a moment. I was sitting on a fallen limb on the other side of the stump, when I heard one of my Raincoast colleagues make a startling sound that I mistook for a hiccup. When I glanced over at her, another one of our party motioned for me to look the other way. That’s when I saw our curious friend. After our brief encounter he reversed his course and disappeared into the trees.

My colleagues and I had been fixated on the stream below observing another large male black bear that had been fishing for pink salmon and eventually wandered off into the bush. The bear taking a peek at me from around the corner of the stump was smaller and wasn’t going to go much further up the valley with the other big bear dominating the choice predation zone.

Two other black bears were active down stream in addition to our curious friend, who was making his way back up stream. When he was virtually parallel with us he turned and headed up the bank. His mouth was open, scenting us, as he nonchalantly climbed up in very close proximity to where we were sitting. His inquisitiveness satisfied, he continued strolling right by us undeterred straight into the forest. The bear’s goodwill and a rapidly setting sun were signs it was time to take our leave from this captivating little salmon system on the central coast of British Columbia.

Ursus americanus, the American black bear, occurs only on the North American continent. According to the Great Bear Almanac, some five hundred thousand black bears roamed North America at the time of European contact. BC has the largest black bear population in Canada at an estimated 120,000 animals. In most of the states and provinces occupied by black bears, they are treated as game animals and subject to trophy hunting. The University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web states that approximately 30,000 black bears are killed annually for trophies in North America.

The International Bear Association details the appearance of Ursus americanus thusly: This medium-sized bear is usually black with a brown muzzle, lacks a shoulder hump, and often has a white patch on the chest. Although black is the predominant color, chocolate and cinnamon brown color phases are also common, which often results in people confusing them with brown bears. Black bears with white and pale-blue coats (known respectively as Kermode and glacier bears) also occur in small numbers. Kermode bears are found along the north-central coast of BC. Black bears have strong, highly curved claws and the profile of the face is convex when compared with the more concave profile of a brown bear.

Did You Know?

Black bears vary considerably in size, depending on the quality of food available. Adult male black bears range from about 130 to 190 centimeters (50 to 75 inches) in length and weigh 60 to 300 kilograms (130 to 660 pounds). Males may be from anywhere from 20 to 60 percent larger than females. At birth, cubs weigh 225 to 330 grams (7 to 11 ounces).

Black bears can live up to 30 years in the wild but most often live for only about 10, primarily as a result of encounters with humans. More than 90 per cent of black bear deaths after the age of 18 months are the result of gunshots, trapping, motor vehicle accidents, or other interactions with humans.

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