Excavation of Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) Middens by Bears (Ursus spp.) in Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis) Habitat in Banff National Park, Alberta


  • David Hamer




American Black Bear, Banff National Park, Grizzly Bear, Limber Pine, midden, Pinus flexilis, Red Squirrel, seeds, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus, Ursus americanus, Ursus arctos


Bears (Ursus spp.) in North America eat the seeds of several pines (Pinus spp.), including Limber Pine (P. flexilis E. James). Information on use of Limber Pine in Canada is limited to a report of three bear scats containing pine seeds found in Limber Pine stands of southwestern Alberta. After my preliminary fieldwork in Banff National Park revealed that bears were eating seeds of Limber Pine there, I conducted a field study in 2014–2015 to assess this use. Because bears typically obtain pine seeds from cone caches (middens) made by Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), I described the abundance, habitat characteristics, and use by bears of Red Squirrel middens in and adjacent to Limber Pine stands at six study sites. On Bow River escarpments, I found abundant Limber Pines (basal area 1–9 m2/ha) and middens (0.8 middens/ha, standard deviation [SD] 0.2). Of 24 middens, 13 (54%) had been excavated by bears, and three bear scats composed of pine seeds were found beside middens. Although Limber Pines occurred on steep, xeric, windswept slopes (mean 28°, SD 3), middens occurred on moderate slopes (mean 12°, SD 3) in escarpment gullies and at the toe of slopes in forests of other species, particularly Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). At the five other study sites, I found little or no use of Limber Pine seeds by bears, suggesting that Limber Pine habitat may be little used by bears unless the pines are interspersed with (non-Limber Pine) habitat with greater forest cover and less-steep slopes where squirrels establish middens. These observations provide managers with an additional piece of information regarding potential drivers of bear activity in the human-dominated landscape of Banff National Park’s lower Bow Valley.