Spring is here and that means it’s Bear O’clock!
Next to the Moose, the Black Bear is the largest mammal in Algonquin Park. Black bears are on a restrictive schedule during the Spring as they remain fairly sedentary for roughly two weeks after emerging from their dens - however, after this time they cover a lot of ground - and fast!
It’s estimated that there are over 2,000 bears in Algonquin, which is about one for every three to four square kilometres. Despite the size of the population, Black Bears are reclusive and tend to avoid contact with people unless, through human carelessness, they begin to associate humans with food. This knowledge becomes particularly important when planning outdoor excursions or camping within Algonquin Park.
Studies have shown that in the Spring, black bears move the most at twilight and before dawn, moderately during the day and the least at night. If you find fresh scat during your hike in the morning or mid-day, chances are in the last two hours of the evening the bear will return to that same location.
Our friends Mike and Ella McIntosh of Bear With Us note, bears will travel more than 100km to a known food source, such as berry patches or beech trees. Bears will learn where other food sources are and seek them out. Unfortunately, this often means they can revisit your backyard or campsite once they have determined that food can be found there. The majority of bear problems occur as a result of improperly stored household garbage. Bears quickly learn to associate human residences and tents with a readily available food source.
Black bears are omnivores, however, plant matter makes up 95% of their diet. In the early Spring, bears feed heavily on grasses and beechnuts. As leaves appear on the hardwoods in early June, bears begin to feed on aspen leaves and by mid-summer their attention turns to berries and seeds. That said, in the wild, once black bears find a steady supply of live meat they may turn away from grass and carrion - and if you happen to find calving sites for moose or deer during your travels, black bears won’t be far behind.
Bears use the same routes for food year-after-year and these laneways often encompass ridge tops, valley bottoms, game trails and closed roads. Bear fur on a tree trunk is a visual giveaway that you’re hiking along one of these paths.
Black Bears use all five major habitats in Algonquin Park; deciduous forests, coniferous forests, spruce bogs, beaver ponds and lakes and rivers. Chances are - you will notice signs of bear activity or come across a bear on your travels. So what can you do to ensure your safety and the safety of the bears in the Park while visiting?
When camping in bear country, which includes Algonquin Park, remember the these cardinal rules:
1. Never feed or approach a bear.
2. Store food so bears cannot access it; in a bear resistant location or container (i.e. hang containers at least 4 metres above the ground and 3 metres from tree limbs or trunks that can support a bear’s weight.
3. Drain dish water away from your camp site.
4. Never cook, eat or store any food, cooking equipment or toiletries in your tent.
5. If you are sleeping in a tent, try not to sleep in clothes you have worn while cooking.
6. Fishing tackle and bait, clothes worn while cooking, garbage, toiletries and all snacks should be stored in a bear-resistant container and away from your campsite.
7. Clean fish away from your campsite.
8. All odours attract bears. Pack all food, including dog food, with special care. Double or triple bagged food will reduce smells. Consider choosing meals that require minimal preparation.
9. Avoid strong fragrances that may cause a bear to be curious; put any food you are carrying in sealed containers in your pack.
10. If you are out with your dog, control it. Hike with your dog on a leash at all times. Uncontrolled, untrained dogs may actually lead a bear to you.
11. Keep a clean campsite and pack out all garbage.
12. Make noise as you move through wooded areas, especially in areas where background noise is high, such as near streams and waterfalls. Singing, whistling or talking will alert bears to your presence, giving them a chance to avoid you.
13. Consider bringing a whistle, air horn, bear spray or even a garbage bag to make noise in the event you encounter a bear on your campsite or in the outback. A good tip is to always carry a garbage bag with you - swinging, swooshing and shaking this will often spook the bear from coming closer - this noise is uncommon to them in the wild. If you bring bear spray, know how to use it - spraying the repellent in 2-3 second bursts within 5 metres of a bear. Keeping in mind too, bear spray only has a shelf life of 4 years, so keep your pack up to date.
14. When hiking, be aware of your surroundings - don’t wear headphones and keep a watchful eye out for signs of bear activity (i.e. tracks, claw marks on trees, flipped-over rocks or fresh bear droppings).
15. If you encounter a bear that obviously knows you are there, raise your arms to let the bear know you are a human. Make yourself look as big as possible. Speak in a firm, but non-threatening voice while looking at the bear and backing away.
16. Watch the bear to gauge its reaction to you. Generally, the noisier the bear is, the less dangerous it is, providing you don’t approach the bear. If a bear huffs, pops its jaw or stomps its paws on the ground, it wants you to back away and give it space.
17. If a bear closely approaches you, drop any food you may be carrying and continue backing up
18. If a bear keeps advancing and is getting close, be aggressive and continue to stand your ground. Use bear spray and anything else to threaten or distract the bear; bears will often first test to see if it is safe to approach you.
Having a bear revisit your property again and again? It might be because you have a bird feeder! During the months that bears hibernate, having a bird feeder can be a great source of nutrients for birds, however, once late April/May hits these feeders can be a target for the black bear. If this sounds like you - strongly consider removing your bird feeder between May - November. A good rule of thumb is to stop feeding birds when the grass turns green and start again with the first snowfall.
Did you know…you’re more likely to die of cardiovascular disease, transportation accidents, drowning, hypothermia, West Nile virus, wasp stings or snake bites than you are being mauled by a black bear. The statistics nationwide show bear attacks make up a whopping 2% of reported fatalities - rest assured if you treat this gentle giant with respect and give it the space it requires, we can coexist peacefully.
So what happens if you’ve followed all of the above tips and you encounter an injured, distressed or unresponsive black bear or bear cub in Ontario? You can contact our friends below:
The Bear With Us Team was founded by Mike McIntosh in 1992 with the cooperation of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR), and is joined now by his wife, Ella. Since the organization's inception, Bear With Us has assisted over 530 orphaned and injured bears in preparation to release them back to their original habitat. Bear With Us is a permanent home to a select few bears that cannot return to the wild.
"I have always valued the natural environment and wildlife which I started photographing as a youngster,” Mike recalls. "Fascinated by wildlife and their behaviour, I became curious about perceived dangerous “predators” and human misunderstanding of these amazing creatures. I am especially intrigued by bears given their high intelligence and unique cognitive abilities.”
To speak to the Bear With Us mission statement, Mike describes his work with adult wild black bears being the result of human activity. "This includes hunting, automobile and other injuries,” he said. "We assist orphan cubs until old enough to be returned to the wild. We work with people recreating in bear country and home owners regarding perceived nuisance bears. This work has allowed myself the privilege to observe the many varied reactions to human interference exhibited by the bears. What I find incredible is a bear’s ability for exhibiting restraint."
For assistance with an injured bear in your area, contact Mike and Ella @ BEARHELP for Orphan Cubs, Injured Bears and Human / Bear Conflicts @ (Cell): 1-705-571-4397 or (Office): 1-705-685-7830. In an immediate emergency, contact the MNRF at the Bear Reporting Line 1-866-514-2327
*Please note, seeing a bear is not an emergency! If a bear is rummaging through your garbage or eating seed out of your bird feeder, wait until the bear leaves to clean up the garbage and remove your feeders.