Foundation full of funds
Jennifer Jones Bear Fund growing as number of bears in the valley shrinks
The number of bears in the Whistler Valley has declined drastically this summer, but the bank account of the foundation created to help Whistler sort out its bear problem is growing.
The Jennifer Jones Whistler Bear Foundation was established late last year to collect funds for the relocation of problem bears in the valley. According to conservation officers, last year was a banner year in the bear population and the lower number of bears this year have the directors of the foundation trying to figure out how they are going to direct the funds they have gathered from private donations and fund-raising efforts.
As of July 9, the foundation had around $28,000 in its coffers. Foundation members are still waiting for the proceeds of a $2 a room Bear Tax that was levied throughout the resort Aug. 11-12 and another $7,500 just announced from the sale of raffle tickets by the prestigious Endeavour Society of Vancouver.
Last summer 22 bears were killed and 16 relocated in Whistler as a large bear population descended on the valley in late summer. As the bear problem grew media outlets gorged on the bear story like a bruin trapped in a dumpster. A few highly-publicised incidents, like an unfortunate encounter between Corey Wilen and a bear in the Whistler Creek area, left Wilen without front teeth and a bear dead. People demanded an "answer" to the bear problem and the municipality jumped in, providing bear traps, eager bylaw officers and some cash.
When the municipality decided to get out of the bear business this spring the Jennifer Jones Foundation stepped in to grab the financial reins. According to local conservation officer Dave Elliott, last year was an anomaly and the bear population is much lower this summer. Elliott says so far this year five bears have been shot and six have been relocated.
Elliott adds the new electric fence around the Whistler landfill and well-designed garbage compactor sites have cut down on the amount of garbage accessible to bears.
So the bear problem has been dealt with and the board of directors of the Jennifer Jones Bear Foundation have shifted their focus from the bear problem to the people problem that creates problem bears.
"This group has really come together and raised a lot of money and now it's time to allocate some of those funds toward education," says director Diane Harduin. "At first we were under the impression that it was move the bear out and you move the problem, but that's not so. We have got to get out there and educate people."
Caren Holtby, chair of the Jennifer Jones Whistler Bear Foundation, says "The majority of the bear problems last year occurred in August and September, so we may have to spend a little more money this summer. But everyone agrees there just aren't as many bears as last summer."
Tony Evans, RMOW director of public safety and a director of the bear foundation, says the directors now have to decide how the fund-raising aspect of the group is going to evolve.
"If this is going to be a typical year for bears, I don't think it's fair for an organization to collect more money than they spend, that's not the intention of this group," Evans says. He adds the fund has done a great job of raising awareness of the plight of bears in Whistler and that can continue.
But as donations from fund-raising events continue to pour into the bank accounts of the Jennifer Jones Whistler Bear Foundation other community groups — like the Community Services Society and the SAFE Awareness Centre — are clamouring for cash to stay open. Evans says it is time for the group to have a hard look at what the costs are going to be when dealing with bears in Whistler and budget fund-raising efforts accordingly, as well as focus on the educational aspect of Whistler's people problem.
"We've got to be responsible in our fund raising so we make sure, we're not taking money just for the sake of taking it," he says.