Bears have been walking through Whistler Village overnight since late July, especially since the wet and colder weather of August delayed ripening of the summer-fall berry crop.
Despite the negative incidents with people and bears this year the village, including Blackcomb Village, according to my surveys since the year 2000, has been the cleanest ever. Every few days since July 1, I walk through garbage containment areas and check what potentially could attract a bear. Basically I act like a bear and I know all about being a good garbage bear.
It's not my job to do this but, as someone who does front-line bear outreach with thousands of people visiting Whistler each year, and now 13 years of monitoring the ski area bear population, it's ideal to have a window into the progress of bear management (which is really people and garbage management) in the valley. I heard that the RMOW was stepping up its garbage management and the results are obvious to me (and I'm a hard critic) that it's working.
If I was in charge of bear management for one day (don't everyone laugh at once) and had the power to decide to have new garbage containers or more manpower to monitor the containers we have, I would choose the manpower to monitor what we have in place. You can have the sturdiest container in the world but if it's not properly used then bears will find a way to access it.
And that's exactly what happened to the current system — overflowing containers taught bears when and where to access garbage in village and bus stop locations. If we step up measures of monitoring and maintenance of these containers, as it seems the RMOW is doing now, we make a significant jump forward in preventing bears from becoming conditioned to human foods. So I congratulate the RMOW for taking the initiatives to be proactive with people/garbage management and preventing bears from accessing human foods.
It’s important to understand that bears will always walk through the village and residential areas because we have built amidst the intersections of mountainous valleys where black bear habitat values are high for high seasonal feeding and bedding.
What I think Whistler should work on is maintaining the connectivity from mountain to mountain for bears to safely pass through, and ensuring that these travel routes are not compromised by potential attractants. It's unrealistic to think that we, as co-habitants in a bear population, can keep the original residents out of our space. We can teach bears, through expressions of habitat juxtaposition and management of attractants, that macro-space (residential/highway greenbelt) is OK for traveling but micro-space (residence) is off limits. Travel corridors need to be defined, along with a residential awareness program to promoting healthy bear use.
The last two years (2007-08) and the loss of a minimum of 22 bears (so far) will see a shallow dive in the population of at least 90 animals (May-June 2008 count) to 70 animals. We also lost an additional nine bears to vehicle collisions in the corridor in 2007.
The 2008 population this fall is likely somewhere between 50 and 70 animals, depending on sub-adult dispersal which needs to be better understood because it plays a large role in population dynamics (relationships with density) as young male bears are most susceptible to becoming human-food conditioned.
In 2008 cub production was the lowest in 15 years, at a minimum of eight cubs. In 2009 the cub forecast is higher, at 14-24 cubs if 14 of 17 females in the ski area have 1-2 cubs each this winter. Most single, pregnant females look in good shape from about 50 days of continued berry feeding.
From 2000 to 2004, I weighed bears bi-monthly to document weight gain relative to age/sex and foraging activities from pre-berry through den entrance. Every bear weighed was also photographed, so I could have a visual record of a bear's body through periods of weight gain. With this photographic guide I can now assess the physical profile of a bear in early October and compare that to a photographed profile in early August.
October is a tough month for bears. The berry crop is now depleted and some bears will move through valley. Keep garbage and recycling away from bears by keeping it inside and dump it as frequently as you can.
And don’t use bird feeders. Feeders are one of the highest attractants in spring and fall that teach bears to come into our space even if the bear can’t reach the feeder.
There are a few bears around the village now so make sure not to overflow containers and it helps not to leave containers ¾ full through the night. Bears can stick their paws down into some containers.
If you see a bear(s) in the village do not crowd them and call authorities to chase the bear away. I have chased 58 different bears out of the village over 600 times in the last nine years. Chasing bears is risky and takes experience.
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