THE WILD FILES
It’s our nature
By Chadd Cawson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Summer is here, and with that comes camping season and enjoying the great outdoors! The Columbia Valley, located on the unceded territories of the Secwépemc and Ktunaxa People and the land chosen as home by the Métis Peoples of B.C., is home to 260 bird species, as well as numerous fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals species and countless invertebrates.
One must bear in mind what types of wildlife one may encounter when out and about in nature, specifically the black bears. Fun fact: they are not always black! They can also be white, a bluish-grey, and varied shades of brown. There have already been sightings of some moseying throughout the valley, perhaps even catching some key R&R on the green at Greywolf Golf Course in Panorama. While from afar, a bear may seem like the strong silent type, they’d prefer if you were not. Talking or singing to yourself when entering an area is a key warning for any bears in your path. Make sure to also keep your eyes peeled for signs one may be near, like their scat, tracks, overturned logs or even claw marks on trees. Keep your food put away and your pets close, preferably on a leash when in bear country.
It is suggested that if you encounter one, to bear down while slowly backing away. As well, throw objects, put your arms up and make noise any way you can. The louder you are, the better. Be armed with bear spray and be prepared to use it. If you can: get inside a vehicle or nearby building for extra protection, as that is always the best and safest option. Don’t panic and try to outrun this large animal, because chances are, you will fail. Despite its cute waddle, a lean black bear’s speed can exceed 30 mph and they can run easily uphill or downhill, scale trees and swim great distances.
Two common untrue myths about black bears: Firstly, they don’t stink like most people think, but usually smell clean and fresh. Secondly, that mother black bears are likely to attack; Rather, mother black bears rarely attack people. According to Wildsafe B.C., black bear attacks are uncommon. The statistic lies at approximately one attack on a human every three years. However, when they do happen, they can be fatal.
When deciphering black bears from grizzly bears, remember that black bears have straight faces from their nose to their forehead with no indentations. While grizzlies have smaller rounded faces and the area from their nose to forehead is indented distinctively. Black bears are typically den-bound from December to April when food is scarce, and can even lose 30 per cent of their body fat over the winter. Their diet can vary, but is approximately 95 per cent from vegetation, while the other 5 per cent is made up of insects, smaller mammals, and birds, which can be found throughout the valley and along different waterways like the Columbia River. They’ve also been known to eat garbage, grain crops, honey and have even consumed domestic livestock.
Much like the pig family, male bears are referred to as boars while the females are called sows. Adult males can stand up to 90 cm at the shoulder and weigh up to 300 kg. Black bears are known for their great sense of smell and can detect food or you from over one km away, so again the key is being aware of your surroundings, cleaning up and putting away all food on your campsites and to avoid hiking alone or being too quiet if doing so. In Indigenous cultures the bear represents vitality, family, health, strength, and courage.
Key takeaways here is to muster your own courage if you encounter a bear in nature; Raise your limbs and voice and be prepared to use your bear spray. Bear in mind: these animals hate surprises. For more information on encountering bears visit wildsafebc.com.