Bears are everywhere in rural Whatcom County, even lowland areas outside cities, said a local naturalist who studies bears.
“Outside of dense human habitat, there’s a good amount of bears,” said Jedidiah Forsyth co-founder of the Cascadia Naturalist Association, which is focused on outdoor and ecological education. The group offers field trips and offers track and sign interpretation, usually in this area.
“They’re pretty common, it’s not a surprise to see a bear outside of town. They’re very wary of humans, and they have a pretty decent understanding of human activity patterns and how not to be seen if they don’t want to see you.”
Black bears inhabit Whatcom County, not the brown bear – or gizzly – Forsyth said. Should you see one, don’t turn and run, he said. Rather, watch it from a distance.
“Stop, hold your ground, and let the bear go about its business,” Forsyth said. “Sometimes, it will do a ‘bluff’ charge to get you to leave. Even a mother with cubs would send the cubs up a tree and retreat.”
In rare circumstances, a black bear will exhibit predatory stalking behavior. In that case, you must fight back, he said.
Bears are predominantly herbivores, which means they eat plants. Bears in this area particularly like skunk cabbage, one of the first pants to burst forth in early spring.
They’re very wary of humans, and they have a pretty decent understanding of human activity patterns and how not to be seen if they don’t want to see you.
Jedidiah Forsyth, local naturalist
“Bears are going for the starchy part,” Forsyth said. “It’s like the plant just exploded. They totally tear it apart.”
In addition to skunk cabbage, bears are fond of stinging nettles and berries. They root through yellowjacket nests and beehives, not for the honey, but for nutritious larvae.
“It’s protein-rich,” Forsyth said. “Honey’s just a bonus.”
A black bear cub weighs about 75 pounds, and a sow or female is about 175 pounds. An adult male, called a boar, can reach 300 to 400 pounds. They’re about 3 feet tall when on all fours, and 5 feet to 7 feet sanding on their hind legs.
You’re most likely to see a bear in morning or afternoon in the spring, summer or fall. Forsyth said. They’re diurnal – meaning they’re active during daylight – but they seek shade and rest during the hottest part of a summer day. In winter, they usually hibernate, unless it’s a mild winter, he said, although there’s some disagreement among researchers about that. He’s been looking for bear signs on the edges of clearcuts and other lowland areas and hasn’t seen anything since the winter 2016-17 started.
“They’ll curl up under hollow root balls, dig a den or rake together a bit of natural matter,” he said. “A good place for them to hibernate is under tangles of fallen trees in second growth where there’s ton’s of slash.
Bears are easily one of my favorite animals; I always feel lucky when I see one. It’s one of those animals that you can see into its mind.
Jedidiah Forsyth, local naturalist
Bears are smart, inquisitive and playful, Forsyth said – far from the foolish creatures it’s often assumed they are.
“It’s very funny to see what they do sometimes,” he said. “Bears are interesting in that even the adults exhibit a lot of playful behavior. They’re very curious. It’s very indicative of how intelligent they are. They spend a good deal of time exploring and enjoying their environment.
“They’re very secretive, but they’re not belligerent. They’re closer to us than people think.
“Bears are easily one of my favorite animals; I always feel lucky when I see one. It’s one of those animals that you can see into its mind. They have a colorful personality. People should feel lucky when they see one. Making eye contact with it is amazing. They are magnificent creatures.”