Whistler Bears and I Say Thanks
By Michael Allen,
Black Bear Researcher
I began the Whistler Black Bear Project in June 1993 initially to compare the ecology of black bears in Whistler with that of the ecology of bears in the Lower Columbia River Valley near Castlegar, where I conducted research between 1988 and 1992. Since 1993, the Whistler bear study has evolved into a comprehensive project involving identifying, counting and monitoring some 200 individual bears.
Research focused on six areas of study: 1) bear visitation at the municipal landfill during open and pre-closure operations; 2) bear population monitoring using sub-population counts; 3) bear use of Whistler/Blackcomb ski area; 4) bear mother-offspring relationships including survival, break-up, dispersal, and re-associations; 5) bear denning ecology; and 6) bear use of differing forest types in an interpretive forest.
Many people and businesses have helped tremendously during the five years of bear study. The Resort Municipality of Whistler granted permission to conduct research at the landfill and provided high quality orthographs which have proved extremely useful in measuring/mapping bear use. Thanks also to the attendants at the Whistler landfill for general information on bear activity when I was not present.
Special thanks go to Arthur DeJong who in 1995 (as Mountain Operations Manager on Blackcomb, now Manager of Environmental Resources and Mountain Planning for Whistler/Blackcomb) approached me to conduct black bear studies on Blackcomb. Blackcomb then provided subsequent spring research funding from 1995 through 1997, as well as logistical and supplemental employment to support the bear study.
In 1996 the Jennifer Jones Whistler Bear Foundation added to the funding, which allowed more field time collecting data on bears. Funding continued through 1997, which allowed my participation in the second International Bear-People Conflicts Workshop held in Canmore, Alberta last April. The Foundation's current support for denning research allows the use of a GPS satellite receiver to pinpoint locations of bears and their movements to dens or daybeds. The receiver is exceptional for recording the locations/routes of bear tracks through the snow.
The Conservation Officer Service in Squamish provided corridor bear management statistics and bear behaviour information. B.C. Parks also expressed an interest and provided their bear sighting database.
Black bear education programs began in 1996 with monthly radio shows on Mountain FM's Mountain Monitor and bi-monthly bear update columns in Pique Newsmagazine. The bear update columns described the seasonal habits of black bears and awareness to prevent bear-people conflicts. The columns were sponsored by the Jennifer Jones Bear Foundation, Blackcomb, and Mountain FM. Great thanks to Pique Newsmagazine for excellent publication of the columns and photographs. Thanks also extended to Mountain FM and Scott Roberts for running an extensive education campaign on bear awareness.
In 1997 bear education began in elementary school classrooms throughout the Sea to Sky Corridor, including Blackwater Creek, Signal Hill, Pemberton daycare, Myrtle Philip, Whistler daycare, and Brackendale. Whistler/Blackcomb and the Jennifer Jones Bear Foundation helped sponsor the presentations.
I spoke with approximately 1,800 children, from pre-school to Grade 7, using visual aids such as large format bear photographs, posters, video, slides, casts of bear tracks, bear skulls and bear food plants. I designed a comprehensive bear awareness poster, which Whistler/Blackcomb produced and which has been distributed throughout the mountains, schools, libraries, etc. Thanks to all teachers interested in the program and especially the kids for being the most "original" open-minded audience and laughing at all my bear stories. Talking with kids about bears is reason enough to continue the research/education program.
Because this bear research involved marking individual bears, I had to take several hundred photographs over the years. I am greatly indebted to Whistler 1 Hour Photo for excellent service. Freestyle Framing and Art Gallery provided exceptional quality in mounting, framing, and preserving many of the photos used for the educational bear displays.
Warm thanks to Malcolm and Wendy Petty for their interest, donations and support from the Whistler Hiking Club.
Finally, I thank my subject — the bears — for sniffing, snorting, grunting, charging, chasing, trampling, a few times swatting, or otherwise providing a worthy adversary for study. My admiration for these creatures is surpassed only by the importance of educating those not as fortunate to experience or understand these adaptable omnivores.
The 1997-98 winter will be spent compiling the last five years of bear research for publication, as well as for submission to the Jennifer Jones Whistler Bear Foundation, Whistler/Blackcomb, and B.C. Environment. I also hope to provide copies of the report for libraries.