Dry weather scorching mountain ash 

Volunteers work with Get Bear Smart society to save recently planted berry-producing trees

click to enlarge PHOTO BY GET BEAR SMART SOCIETY - DRY ASHES Dawn Johnson checks out a distressed mountain ash tree, planted in June. Extremely dry conditions have threatened the crop of trees, which were planted to provide bears with late season forage.
  • Photo by Get Bear Smart Society
  • DRY ASHES Dawn Johnson checks out a distressed mountain ash tree, planted in June. Extremely dry conditions have threatened the crop of trees, which were planted to provide bears with late season forage.

Volunteers working with the Whistler Fire Department are trucking water up Whistler Blackcomb to save a recently planted grove of mountain ash — an important source of food for local black bears.

In June, a new batch of mountain ash was planted on Blackcomb about three kilometres above the top of the sliding centre near the independent power project road.

"Those poor little guys are getting really dry right now," said Sylvia Dolson, executive director of the Get Bear Smart Society. "The volunteer firefighters have gone up a couple of times now to water them. And we've gone up a couple of times, but it is hard for us because it is hard to get that much water up there. The fire department obviously has a big truck and they can take a few hundred gallons up at a time."

Dolson has been leading an effort for almost a decade to remove mountain ash from populated areas of Whistler and plant the shrub-like, berry-producing trees in bear habitat.

Jeremy Postal has published a short video for the Get Bear Smart Society about the plight of the mountain ash trees that are suffering in the heat.

"We planted 272 plants," said Postal. "Most of them are doing pretty (well)."

But he noted that some of the plants are wilting in the relentless summer sun and need human care — hand watering takes about two hours.

Jason Murphy, a volunteer with the Whistler Fire Association, is coordinating the firefighter efforts to water the plants.

"We're looking for anybody interested in giving us a hand," said Murphy in the video, aimed at recruiting a few helpers for the watering project.

Weather forecasters are predicting more clear skies for the rest of the week and through the weekend.

"You want some mountain ash, you've got to water it," said Postal in the closing of the fast-paced video, explaining the effort to get a few more people involved in the watering initiative.

According to Dolson, while efforts are underway to save the newly planted mountain ash on Blackcomb there are still a few places around Whistler that have mountain ash trees planted near children's playgrounds and entrances to buildings.

"The Hilton recently removed theirs," said Dolson. "They were lining their driveway. We had been working with them for years trying to take those down. They had been picking the fruit, which is fine — that meets the bylaw."

Dolson is happy with the move made by the hotel but, she said, there are other landowners in Whistler who refuse to remove the bear-attracting plants.

"The village is a no-go bear zone so that means whenever bears come in that area they are chased out, so we really don't want things specifically attracting them there and creating a potential conflict."

Dolson said bears really like mountain ash berries because they ripen in the fall when the bears are eating for as much as 20 hours a day to prepare for up to five months of hibernation without food.

"They're clumped," said Dolson describing the berries. "They can get 50 berries in one mouthful so its really fast picking for them as opposed to a blueberry bush where they have to pick one at a time."

Anyone interested in helping with the mountain ash watering initiative can send an email message to info@getbearsmart.com.

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