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Denning with the bears

Steven Hill shill@squamishchief.com Students in the Don Ross Secondary School's Outdoor Leadership Program got a chance to learn the bear necessities March 9 when they went on a field trip with Whistler bear researcher Mike Allen.

Steven Hill

shill@squamishchief.com

Students in the Don Ross Secondary School's Outdoor Leadership Program got a chance to learn the bear necessities March 9 when they went on a field trip with Whistler bear researcher Mike Allen.

Allen, who has been researching bears in Whistler for more than a decade, took the students on a snowshoe excursion in the woods to explore a bear den.

"I took 26 students and two teachers to the Whistler Interpretive Forest to survey a black bear tree cavity den," said Allen. "This was quite a special den for me, because it was the first bear den I ever found in Whistler back in 1994.

"I've located just over 200 now after a decade of research," he said. "It was kind of unique then, because the entrance never gets covered. It is in an old western red cedar."

Allen said the class snowshoed about 3 kilometres before the group of grade 10 students split up into two groups. The groups each took turn surveying the bear den.

"The den is unique in that the entrance never gets covered with snow because it's situated mid-slope along a north-facing steep gully where snow continually falls away" Allen said. "The den is difficult to access, so the first task for students was to secure a rope that would allow them to climb up and into the hollow tree cavity."

Once inside the bear den, students surveyed and measured the den, and collected hair samples. Allen said the students were not in danger of waking up a snoozing bear.

"I wasn't occupied this winter, but it had been last winter," he said. It was a good field experience snowshoeing and visiting a bear den, and they also learned some bear biology and about hibernation."

This year marks the 10th anniversary for Allen's bear education visits to schools in Whistler, and the first year doing field trips with a Squamish group.

"I have lived in Squamish for the past five years," said Allen. "I'm now working on finding an appropriate location in Squamish to bring local field trips. This year I also visited all the elementary schools in a program funded by the district. I love the open minds of the younger generation. They are like sponges and absorb everything. It is great."

Allen will next be giving a presentation on bears to a BC Science Teachers' Conference meeting in Whistler in May.