Bear Update: Tolerating Whistler’s bears
By Michael Allen
Black Bear Researcher
Whistler’s fall season is colourful, cool and, if you are a conservation officer, a bit crazy. This is the time when bear complaints traditionally increase, with most bears being destroyed or relocated only days before entering their dens for the winter.
Between August and early November, when most bears enter their dens, the urge to feed is so great that, if given the opportunity, bears will lose their fear of humans to pursue the edible garbage found many times on our doorsteps.
Our relationship with black bears in this valley can be summarized in three words: garbage, education and tolerance. If we can think about these three things it might lessen the need for many of us to pick up the phone and call for the removal of a bear.
1. Garbage. The proper storage and disposal of garbage is undoubtedly the foremost way to prevent bear-people conflicts. Many people that visit or reside seasonally in Whistler do not realize this and therefore contribute to the bear-garbage problem. All garbage and any edible items should be secured inside a house and disposed of at a compactor site as soon as possible. Once you leave a bag of garbage or something with an odour outdoors you have increased your chances of getting a visit from a bear.
2. Education. The Whistler Valley and adjacent mountain slopes are one of the most unique places in British Columbia to learn about black bears. The areas surrounding Whistler are some of the best black bear habitat in the province, second only to the salmon-rearing watersheds to our north and south.
The next time you see a bear on a ski run or in one of the neighbourhoods in Whistler watch it and learn its behaviour. Bear activity and movements are mostly food-oriented. Try and find out what foods (man-made or natural) the bear was after. Observe how it reacts to people, cars, dogs, etc. Scats, tracks and ripe berry shrubs near your residence can tell you the potential or extent of bear activity in your area. If you find out useful information about a particular bear, pass it on to your neighbours so they are aware of its presence. There are also new books on bears at the library that describe bear signs and ways to bear-proof your residence.
3. Tolerance. Tolerating bears in close proximity to your residence will be the most crucial step towards securing a healthy relationship with bears. Bears will always be here, regardless of the garbage situation. Bears inhabit this valley because it is excellent black bear habitat, not because of the sources of garbage.
Some years there will be a lot of bears, or it will seem like it, and other years the numbers will fall dangerously low. This year there are a high number of families and a low number of young adult bears. Food supply (berry crops) and the number of bears removed (destroyed or relocated) from the valley are what regulate the Whistler population.
Tolerance doesn’t mean you should allow a bear to cause damage to your property or get dangerously close, but it does mean that you should watch the bear that passes through your yard or down your street. Notify your neighbours of the bear and be cautious. Learn from the situation.
What might help is to get rid of the idea of relocation as a solution to bear problems. This might sound extreme because many of us are led to think that we are doing bears a favour by moving them to another area, when in fact, it’s more like a bear’s worst nightmare. What promoters of relocation don’t see is the bears that are destroyed when they return from relocation, or the loss and break-up of families when relocation takes place.
Between 1993 and 1996 I have observed 12 different bears in the valley with tags in their ears. These are bears which have returned from their relocation area and are targetted for destruction, if they are subsequently trapped. Three of these bears were sexually mature mothers, who were later destroyed.
The idea that bears can be continually relocated to help preserve the population is false. Relocating bears is done more to alleviate the numbers of bears that have to be destroyed immediately. Most often, relocation only delays the destruction of a bear. If you don’t want to see bears destroyed or relocated then don’t call in a complaint about a bear that you could have otherwise tolerated.
If anyone has questions about bears or some information they would like to share about a particular bear or bear problem my number is available for advice and information.
Michael Allen can be heard on Mountain FM’s Mountain Monitor program the fourth Tuesday of each month. Listen Sept. 24 at noon.