SHARING THE NORTH SHORE WITH BLACK BEARS
Black bears are a highly misunderstood species and are commonly misrepresented, consequently causing many people to have an exaggerated fear of them. In fact, black bears are calm and intelligent animals who are adapting to increased human and dog activity in areas where they live. Bears are part of our wider community but they are not domesticated. Calmly step away from bears and never approach them intentionally. It is normal to see bears during the daytime; they are not fearful of humans, but they aim to avoid close encounters with us. Bears rarely approach people with intent, however, do not expect a bear to run away from you or your dog – that wastes energy. Given the nature of where we live, bears often have no choice but to travel through neighbourhoods. When bears are close to homes, they are not seeking to hurt people, dogs or cats. They are looking for a safe place to avoid other bears, natural food, opportunities to supplement their natural diet, a quiet place to rest or are just passing through.
Bears can be found in almost any area on the North Shore, from the beach to the mountains and everywhere in between. To date, Lower Lonsdale and Central Lonsdale are the only communities where bears are rarely sighted. We are grateful to be supported by the District of North Vancouver, the District of West Vancouver, and the City of North Vancouver.
Bears are most active from late February to mid-December here. Mild winters and access to unnatural food from humans contributes to late winter activity. Male bears who continue to find sufficient calories may den for shorter periods over the winter. Some bears occasionally leave their den in search of unnatural food and bears who do not gain enough weight to enter dormancy remain active in an effort to survive. Be prepared to see a bear at any time of year on the trails, in neighbourhoods and at campsites. Late winter sightings in residential areas are increasing each year.
Healthy, dominant adult male bears typically occupy the best home ranges, living further away from people and often being more active at night. This forces bears who are vulnerable to them, such as females with cubs, juveniles, injured or older bears, to seek safety by being more active during the day. Those bears are also forced to live on the periphery of areas occupied by humans. Mother black bears are especially timid and choose to live closer to us in an attempt to keep her cubs safe. Her nature is to retreat from threats, but if you surprise her at close range, she may feel pressured to defend her family. Communicate to her that you are not a danger by using a calm tone, slowly distancing yourself and leaving the area. Moving bears from their home on the North Shore is not an option or a solution; vulnerable bears will always live closer to us. Every day, bears are in close proximity to us without incident and display their willingness to peacefully coexist with humans. If more people act on ways to share the North Shore with bears, we know we can be respectful neighbours. Black bears can live for 25 years or more. Sadly, bears that live closer to humans live significantly shorter lives. Many of our North Shore bears are killed before making it to adulthood. Help us to change the way we coexist with bears by learning more about these magnificent animals.
THE FOREST IS HOME
Black bears evolved in forested areas and are fast and agile tree climbers. Trees are their safe place; a black bear’s instinct is to retreat from confrontation by scaling a nearby tree. During the summer months, bears seek shade in the tree canopy and it is common to see bears in wild and residential fruit trees. Typically, a black bear will not climb down from a tree if people or pets are close by, they may also choose to wait until darkness. Mother black bears send their cubs into a tree to avoid encounters with humans, pets and wildlife. Climbing is one of the first and most important skills a mother teaches their 5-month-old cub when they emerge from the den they were born in. When cubs are in a tree, their mother may step away to forage or protect them by guarding the base of the tree. If you notice a bear in a tree, always calmly distance yourself. Standing at the base of the tree traps the bear, which adds further stress to their lives and can make them an easy target to be killed if they are in a human occupied area.
Bears travel along creeks and rivers in search of food. It is normal to see increased bear activity at lower elevations during the spring, with some bears expanding their range to higher elevations in the summer as snowmelt offers foraging opportunities for new growth. During winter months, trees provide safety and shelter. Bears enter a state of dormancy around mid-late December, but not a deep sleep, which serves them well should they need to protect themselves. Their heart and respiratory rates significantly reduce, but their body temperature drops only slightly. Impressively, they do not eat, drink, urinate or defecate while denning. North Shore black bears are known to den at the hollow base of trees or under windfall. In an effort to create distance from dominant males, vulnerable young and injured bears may den close to the community or trails.
BEARS AND WATER
You could see a bear at the beach or even in the ocean. Bears enjoy cooling off and swim to travel, find food, soothe wounds and play. Black bears are great swimmers and can swim considerable distances. During low tide, bears eat seaweed and turn over rocks to look for crabs, barnacles, starfish, mussels, fish, eels and other crustaceans. Expect to see bears drinking from and using creeks, rivers, lakes (and sometimes pools) across the North Shore.