Living with bears 

Internationally renowned bear expert to speak in Whistler

Steve Herrero, a teacher, researcher and professional consultant, has spent the past 35 years of his life studying the ecology and behaviour of bears. He is considered a leading authority on bears, and has been featured in several documentaries on the animals.

Among his many credentials, he is currently the co-chair of an international bear specialist group that is involved in conservation initiatives related to the world’s eight bear species.

He is also the author of Bear Attacks Their Causes, a study which examines the factors contributing to attacks over more than two decades – a book that could be of greater interest after a yearling black bear killed a five-month old baby girl in New York State and a grizzly attacked a group of hunters in the Fort St. John area in the last week.

Herrero and a group of other scientists are preparing to release a nine-year study on grizzly bears in Banff Provincial Park next year that he says will help determine what courses of action to take to keep the public safe while providing for the safety of the bear population.

Presented by the J.J. Whistler Bear Society and the Whistler Naturalists, Herrero’s Whistler presentation, called Living with Bears, will focus on minimizing bear destruction, managing attractants, managing habitat, accepting modest risk and fostering respect for bears.

"The first thing is to ensure that you’re not killing too many, they do not have a very high reproductive rate," says Herrero. "Conservation has always been a top priority in any circumstances."

The key to keeping bears alive is to minimize attractants.

"This is of particular concern for Whistler, and indeed a challenge for all human beings in bear country. It applies to everything from garbage to backyard barbecues to fruit trees to bird feeders," Herrero says.

Maintaining an adequate amount of habitat is also crucial if people wish to avoid contact with bears, and their interests should be considered in any development plans.

If you live in bear country, you should also be prepared to accept that there is a modest risk that you will come across an aggressive bear.

"They are not a species that is bent on injuring people, but sometimes they do. You have to do everything to avoid the conflict, and be prepared to manage these rare situations," he says.

While there are no hard and fast rules for avoiding bear contact and handling encounters with bears, Herrero says the knowledge is increasing all the time on what he calls "truly one of the more complex characters in the woods."

Sylvia Dolson, the executive director of the J.J. Whistler Bear Society, has been trying to book Herrero for more than two years.

"We wanted to continue the local educational process by bringing in one of the foremost experts in bear behaviour and attacks in Canada," says Dolson. "We want to promote a greater understanding of bears, and how to co-exist in harmony with the bears in our backyards."

Herrero is speaking on Wednesday, Aug. 28 at Millennium Place, from 7 to 10 p.m. The price is $7 for members of the Whistler Naturalists and $9.75 for non-members. Children under 12 are free.

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