About 50 of you responded with an opinion on the huckleberry crop this year – THANKS! I got results back from several parts of Idaho, and some from Washington as well. Looking just at the Idaho Panhandle, individual experiences ranged all the way from “A” to “F” grade. When it was all said and done, as a group you rated the 2011 huck crop as a C minus. Not particularly good, but not totally out of whack either. Units 1, 4 and 4A stand out with the poorest crops this year (in general), while Unit 5 was the only unit to get a B average:
Bears do just fine with serviceberries, buffalo berries, raspberries, elderberries, etc., but huckleberries are key. In poor huck years, several things happen the next winter:
- Cubs (and some yearlings) survive poorly in the den that winter. In real bad years, very few cubs will make it and we’ll lose most of an age class. We can track this for years from the ages of harvested bears (we get the age from that tooth we swipe from you by counting the rings just like a tree).
- Few new cubs are born the next year. Female bears generally have to reach 100 lbs before their body will allow them to have cubs, and you’d be surprised at how many come up short of that in poor berry years. It’s not surprising to lose most of this age class as well after a bad berry year.
- The second year’s cub crop can also be affected a bit by poor female body condition. Often we’ll see a reduction here as well, even though another year has gone by. It seems that some females can’t recuperate in just one summer and birth rates can still be somewhat lower that second year.
The population dynamics of bears depends a lot on the amount of available food. In Idaho, the means berries to a large degree. Our bears are relatively small, and reproductive rates are slow. In the eastern US, adult bears are substantially larger. There, they have plenty of berries, but they also have a lot of “hard mast” and in particular acorns and beechnuts. These are packed with oils (calories) and bears there can put on weight fast. We can’t compete with that, but then again….they don’t get to live out here!