"It’s a problem that’s going to take everyone’s efforts to solve."
That was municipal engineer Brian Barnett’s summary of what is required to prevent further bear-human conflicts like the incidents last week which led to three bears being destroyed.
Two bears were feeding on garbage in a commercial bin behind the Keg Restaurant Sept. 16. Dozens of people who had gathered to watch the bears saw RCMP officers destroy the animals in the day-skier parking lots.
The morning of Sept. 18 another bear was destroyed after it was found in the Whistler Village Centre square.
"Bears in the village are unusual, but it does happen," Barnett told council members Monday.
Barnett said the hot weather this summer has dried up berry crops on the mountain slopes, forcing more bears into the valley to search for food. Similar situations are occurring in the Okanagan.
A bear management plan, designed to bear-proof all areas of Whistler, is being implemented in an ambitious two year schedule, Barnett said. The plan, which began this summer, calls for the installation of new bear-proof garbage containers, extending the electric fence around all areas of the municipal landfill and will include amendments to the waste disposal bylaw, making bear-proof garbage containers mandatory throughout Whistler and increasing fines for improper disposal of garbage.
Barnett said the installation of bear-proof containers is proceeding from the south end of town to the north. More than 100 bear-proof bins have been installed to date, but the strategy is to bear-proof an entire area.
It does no good to bring bear-proof containers into areas that continue to use old containers bears can get into, Barnett said. Function Junction and Creekside are the primary areas the program is focusing on this year. The village and northern areas will be bear-proofed next summer.
"But it doesn’t do any good to have bear-proof garbage containers if the lid is propped open with a stick," Barnett said.
While 15 black bears have been shot in Whistler this year and the number of bears seen in and around the village seems to be at an all time high, black bear researcher Michael Allen says the local bear population is down from what it was in 1994-95.
Allen says the bear population around the landfill usually increases in the fall when the berry crop is depleted. With the berry crop virtually exhausted a month earlier than usual this year Allen says it would seem likely that there would be more bears in the landfill area. However, the numbers at the landfill (as of Sept. 14) were less than half of what they were in 1994-95.
Allen says there are a number of reasons for fewer bears at the landfill, including a smaller bear population, many of the bears habituated to garbage at the landfill have been destroyed or relocated and also there is less garbage available to bears.
However, he says it is still possible for bears to get into the landfill.
"Lots of times there are shorts in the electric fence, there’s no electronic gates to keep bears out and some of the moms will climb up the wooden posts, avoiding the electric fence, while the cubs can go under the wire."
He says the electric fence has deterred some bears but resident bears still get into the landfill and "multiple generations of bears still learn to feed at the landfill."
"(The bear situation at the landfill) is improving, but whether or not its a total result of the fence... I think it’s more a result of removal."
Allen says not all bears destroyed at the dump are shot. At least two have been hit by trucks speeding into or out of the landfill area.