Description of Black Bears of Vancouver Island (Ursus americanus)
Sightings: Common in Summer and Fall
Black bears on Vancouver Island vary in both size and colour depending on availability of food, type of diet and proximity to varies elements. Although black is the most common colour for their thick luxurious coat, there can be periods of time when black bears display hues of brown.
The size of an adult male, measured from the ground to the shoulder when on all four legs can range from 125 to 200 centimetres and they can weigh from 50 to 250 kg. Adult females are also between 125 to 200 centimetres tall, but only weigh 30 to 70 kilos. At birth, a cub can weigh less than one quarter a kilo. Adults may live up to 20 years.
The most common variety the American Black Bear are found across North America, from Northern Mexico, to over 30 US States, to all the Provinces and Territories of Canada, with the exception of Prince Edward Island. They are found most abundantly in British Columbia and on Vancouver Island.
Black bears are omnivores and are opportunistic feeders: insects, nuts, berries, grasses and other vegetation, as well as meat such as deer or moose (although moose are not indigenous to Vancouver Island), it is known that they would rather forage for food than make the effort to actually kill it, with the exception of salmon which is a staple in the diet for all mainland and Vancouver Island black bears. Salmon provides the bulk of the much needed fat content and
protein to carry them through the long winter hibernation.
Immature Black Bear in a tree at Campbell River ~BC, Vancouver Island, Canada. Mating generally takes place every two years with the breeding season consisting of the summer months of June, July and August, the male and female will remain together for as little as a few hours or as much as a few days to insure insemination. Black bears are solitary, with the exception of females with cubs. The pregnancy lasts an estimated 220 days, with cubs being born in January and February. Litters range from 1 to 5, though 2 is the average and rarely if more than 3 cubs are born; do they survive The young stay with their mothers for up to two years.
Distribution and Habitation:
Black bears are the most widely distributed of British Columbia’s large mammals, virtually the entire province, including the outer coast and islands is densely populated black bear habitat. This also falls true for areas that have densely populated human habitation.
Transportation networks, residential and industrial developments dramatically affect black bears through habitat fragmentation and loss. Increased access result in an increase of human contact with black bears and often displaces bears from traditional foraging areas. Clear cutting of old growth forests may provide short-term benefits by providing increased berry or vegetation production, which in turn prompts a short term population boom of black bears on Vancouver Island.
However, once the second-growth forests are re-established with their dense canopies, they did not provide the same volume or quality of food as the younger or older well established forests. As an effect, a high rate of cannibalism of male black bears killing the young to provide the much needed protein for winter survival ensues. They ascribe these killings to three main factors:
- Increased interactions of males with females and cubs in the smaller foraging range.
- Increased vulnerability of females and cubs that den earlier than males
- Loss of safety in dens of large hollow trees, root boles and logs.
British Columbia’s black bear population is currently at an historic high. The wildlife experts estimate that 120,000 to 160,000 black bears live in British Columbia, having increased threefold since the 1870’s, with the most densely populated area being Vancouver Island. The Black bear has a greater ability to adjust to human activities compared to that of other bears; this has contributed to the perceived success in population increases.
Along with the population increases, British Columbia has experienced an escalation of black bear-human conflicts, particularly over the past ten years. The number of black bear complaints recorded by the Conservation Officer Service nearly doubled between 1992 and 1999 and doubled again between 1999 and 2009. Fewer bears are being trans-located each year due to the ineffectiveness of trans-location and the additional problems it causes. Relocated bears frequently conflict with resident bear populations in habitat that is already fully occupied. Trans-located animals tend to return to their home territories and the site of the original conflict.
Photo Gallery: Black Bears