Here’s why you could be seeing so many bears on Georgian Bay this year

young black bear on the road Photo by Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

Despite 40 bears being struck and killed by vehicles driving along Highway 400 between Honey Harbour Road, Georgian Bay Township, and the Town of Parry Sound in August, there appears to be no definitive answer in regards to the number of sightings being reported and the spike in the number of bears killed.

Mike McIntosh, founder, and president of Bear With Us, stresses that it doesn’t reflect an increase in the Georgian Bay black bear population. “That area probably hasn’t changed much in the last decade or two,” he says. Instead, McIntosh theorizes that it has to do with food sources.

“There’s a move around this time of year because of hyperphagia, which means that [the bears] are hungry, constantly trying to fatten up for hibernation,” McIntosh says. “Food sources have become more or less scarce in certain areas, and that makes [bears] travel a lot. And then most of these busy four-lane highways, from what I’ve seen, are even busier than normal.”

As highways become more populated and people drive faster, it makes it more difficult for bears to safely cross. When bears do want to cross a highway, they’ll watch the road from the edge of the woods and wait for a gap, McIntosh says. But their cubs don’t always follow, meaning the mother has to backtrack across the highway to grab them. This is often when they get hit.

McIntosh says the OPP’s estimate of 40 dead black bears along Highway 400 is likely underreported. “The police don’t usually get a call unless the bear-vehicle collision does some damage to the car and maybe they’re needed for an insurance claim,” he says. “In the last month, I’ve seen quite a few dead cubs in the road, which wouldn’t damage a vehicle because they’re the size of a house cat.”

If the province wants to prevent bear collisions, McIntosh says it needs to invest in wildlife corridors, such as bridges or tunnels that help the animals bypass highways, as well as fences along both sides of the road.

As for drivers, the OPP recommends sticking to the posted speed limits, scanning well ahead of the vehicle, watching ditches and shoulders, and using proper headlamps, especially around dusk and dawn.

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