Bear facts

Rick Stronks addresses Madawaska Valley Horticultural Society

Bears are driven by food.

That’s the one thing Rick Stronks, Chief Park Naturalist at Algonquin Provincial Park, wants members of the Madawaska Valley Horticultural Society to remember from his talk at the April 19 meeting.

Stronks explained that Algonquin Park hosts up to 50 research projects each year, so he can get pretty close to black bears. Particularly memorable was his chance to babysit two bear cubs (actually, to cuddle them) while Park researchers examined their mother in her winter den.

His talk focused first on the black bear and how it survives in the Park; then on what happens when bear meets human.

Stronks described the bear’s extremely acute sense of smell. Because bears are poor hunters, their main food sources are vegetation, insects, grubs and, of course, easy food sources such as garbage.

He related a typical year in the life of a black bear: bear-year


From the cold weather in early November until about the Spring Equinox, the bear sleeps in its den. During hibernation bears do not drink, eat or eliminate. Females wake just enough to tend to cubs which are born in January.


It emerges, starving, around Mar. 20. Then from April until the fall, the bear eats.


Bears ignore the opposite sex all year except for mating season in June. They have what is called delayed implantation where the fertilized egg is not implanted in the female bear’s uterus until the fall – and it will only implant if the female is a healthy weight; i.e. more than 150 lbs. So it’s important for the female bear to gain weight during summer. In fall bears work extremely hard to fatten up. It is a critical time to build up their winter stores. Acorns and beechnuts are perfect for this. To illustrate the lure of beechnuts, Stronks showed a video of a 200 lb. black bear straddling the smallest, highest branches of a beech tree as he gathered beechnuts with his claws. At this it became unnecessary to add that climbing a tree is no way to avoid a bear encounter.

Stronks then focused on bear encounters with humans, stating what he calls the Three Bear Rules:

  • Never feed or approach a bear
  • Keep a clean campsite or home (even during daylight)
  • Store food in a safe location

The audience was amused to see a video of a bear hanging from a tightrope in an effort to raid a bird feeder strung between two trees until Stronks emphasized that we should not feed birds during summer in bear country.

Stronks’ advice if you encounter a bear:

  • Stay calm and assess the situation
  • Stay together. Groups of three or more people have fewer problems. The group should back away, shout, whistle or use pepper spray. Above all, do not run.
  • If you should encounter a predatory bear – which is very rare – DO fight back. Do NOT try to play dead.

Stronks explained various methods used at Algonquin Park to deter bears from scavenging at campgrounds, ranging from sophisticated Molok garbage systems to techniques for retraining habituated bears. He said humans have a responsibility not to cause bear problems, so we should maintain clean homes and campsites.

A lively question period ensued. When asked about bear sightings in the Madawaska Valley, Stronks was adamant that we should NOT call him.

  • If a bear poses immediate threat to personal safety, call 911.
  • During April to November, report sightings (not emergencies) to BearWise 1-866-514-2327

Through the evening, Stronks repeated his main point:

Bears are driven by food.


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