July 24, 2018
We spent an awesome evening with about 50 black bears at Vince Shute’s.
Vince Shute’s has been and may still be controversial. Let me explain.
Vince Shute ran a lumber camp at this site for several decades. He shot many bears that raided his homestead looking for food. One day he realized, “Bears aren’t mean, just hungry.” So he began placing food outside the camp’s perimeter to keep the bears away from his cabins. Thus began a lifelong pursuit.
The nonprofit American Bear Association (ABA) was formed to help Vince realize his dream of a peaceful coexistence between bears and humans. “To feed or not to feed” was a big issue that was finally decided in favor of “to feed.” The sanctuary does not supply enough food to totally “feed” these bears. This is considered supplemental feeding. They still need to go out and forage for natural foods.
Black bears come here to eat. That’s it. There’s minimal interaction with humans, other than the dozens of people gawking from a large raised wooden platform. The bears don’t gawk back. They just eat.
Besides watching the black bears eat, there are educational signs to read. I like educational signs.
For example: In late summer and early fall, bears eat voraciously to prepare their bodies for hibernation. Did you know this behavior is called hyperphagia? I didn’t. I thought it was called “eating like a pig.” Bears eat as much high calorie foods, such as berries, nuts, and acorns, as they can and drink gallons of water to flush their systems. No meat. They rarely eat meat. Humans are meat. So we really aren’t considered food by the bears.
Because black bears can lose up to 1/3 of their body weight during hibernation, they try to gain 2 to 5 pounds a day during this period. I can do that without trying. Just give me a box of Cheezits.
As winter closes in they become more lethargic and eat less. Eventually they decide it’s time for sleep and head for their dens. Like me after eating an entire box of Cheezits.
Fact or Fiction: Bears do not poop the entire time they are hibernating.
FACT! While hibernating they develop a fecal plug that blocks their digestive tract. I try not to think too much about that factoid. You shouldn’t either. But it was on a sign so I thought I would share!
A black bear’s life is dominated by…food…and fear. Given their size I can understand food, but fear?
Think about the food issue this way. How much would you eat if you could only eat six months out of the year and had to spend the other six months sleeping? I’d think about food…a lot. So consuming food would logically be tops on a bear’s list of daily chores. Or maybe the only chore.
Even though a black bear is a strong, powerful animal, fear plays a very powerful role. When faced with danger, a black bear tries to find a way to escape. A cub’s first lesson is to learn how to climb a tree, not because it’s fun – which it is – but because it keeps them safe from harm.
How a black bear responds to danger is often interpreted by humans as aggressive behavior. For example, a bear may rear up on its hind legs not in preparation for attack but to get a better look at the perceived danger. Think standing on your tippy toes to peer over a wall.
A black bear might “bluff charge” by lunging towards a threat, slap the ground, and “huff”. This is not aggression but a nonverbal way to say, “Back off!” If you ever see this behavior in real life, I strongly suggest you listen to the bear.
(Tidbit of knowledge from Holly – So where are all these bears when you are out wandering the woods in the summer? Look up. They rest in the trees during the day. You might smell them before you see them but if you leave them alone, they’ll likely stay right where they are and watch you wander on through).