RMOW looking into Bear Smart status 

Whistler is not as "bear smart" as some believe, according to new provincial criteria on how communities manage bear/human conflicts.

Both Mayor Hugh O’Reilly and Councillor Ken Melamed expressed surprise at Monday’s council meeting when they learned of Whistler’s poor grades when it comes to living with the local bears.

The mayor said he was "stunned" by the report card, which gave Whistler at least two C minuses under its criteria.

But Lance Sundquist, a member of the Whistler Bear Working Group which also includes Whistler-Blackcomb, AWARE, RCMP and the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, said it would be easy for Whistler to get good grades again.

Sundquist appealed to council to adopt the provincial Bear Smart program, a conservation strategy designed to reduce the conflict between humans and bears.

"Whistler is well on its way to meeting the Bear Smart criteria," said Sundquist.

Whistler could be the first community in the province to adopt the program he added.

From there the resort could spin off some marketing benefits as a Bear Smart community.

"We should support it and get it," said the mayor.

To become Bear Smart a community must meet six criteria, which include:

• preparing a bear hazard assessment of the community;

• preparing a bear/human conflict management plan;

• revising planning documents to be consistent with the bear/human conflict management plan;

• implementing a continuing education program, directed at all sectors of the community;

• developing and maintaining a bear-proof solid waste management system;

• implementing "Bear Smart" bylaws prohibiting the provision of food to bears as a result of intent, neglect or irresponsible management.

Whistler received poor marks on the first three criteria, which go hand in hand.

Sundquist said there was work done in a bear/human assessment in the late 1990s but it’s now dated and needs to be done again. From the assessment, the conflict management plan can be reworked and the planning documents updated.

Whistler got very good marks in continuing education programs and the bear bylaws. Sundquist said the community just has to make sure that these programs are sustained from year to year.

He also said that sustaining the bear-proof solid waste management system is crucial to the whole process.

Currently the electrical fence around the landfill is 80 per cent effective in keeping out the bears. Likewise the bear-proof garbage bins are also very effective, but only if used properly.

"That’s key – to ensure there’s long-term sustainability," he said.

The criteria was established by the provincial government about a year and a half ago. Several communities in B.C. are in the process of becoming Bear Smart.

"I consider Whistler to be in process," said Sundquist.

He estimates that the process could take more than $12,000 but money could be saved looking at other options and using municipal staff throughout the process.

"It’s not as much the funding but having council’s support," he said.

Council seemed keen on the concept and asked staff to report back with some costs on implementing the program.

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