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bear scarer

By Loreth Beswetherick Bears beware – conservation officers from across the province, RCMP officers from the Lower Mainland and other professionals involved in ursine management will converge on Whistler next week for a crash course in aversive condi

By Loreth Beswetherick Bears beware – conservation officers from across the province, RCMP officers from the Lower Mainland and other professionals involved in ursine management will converge on Whistler next week for a crash course in aversive conditioning. Steve Searles, the Mammoth Lakes, California bear man who has earned himself North American acclaim for his non-lethal bear scare techniques, will be in Whistler for the week Monday, Oct. 25 to Friday, Oct. 29. He will be coming to B.C. on the invitation of Sylvia Dolson and the Jennifer Jones’ Whistler Bear Foundation and he will be sharing his art with industry professionals. Dolson said Searles will host a one-day workshop on Wednesday, Oct. 27 for those involved in bear management and, that evening from 7-10 p.m., he will give a public talk and be available to answer questions. For the rest of the week Searles will be assessing Whistler’s situation and see if his technique can be as successful here as it is in Mammoth where the community now has a zero kill rate for problem bears. He will also be doing field training with local law enforcement. Sea to Sky conservation officers have been using a form of non-lethal bear management adapted from information Dolson brought back from a trip to Mammoth to meet Searles. CO Dan LeGrandeur will be presenting the results of the pilot program, used for the first time this season, at the workshop. LeGrandeur has said that the program, which saw local RCMP officers equipped with bear bangers, rubber bullets and screamers, has been successful and he will be recommending the Ministry of Environment continue. Local bear researcher Michael Allen has, however cautioned, that the non-lethal method used in Whistler should not be referred to as aversive conditioning. Allen has said the local program is short term. "Aversive conditioning is long term. Usually you stay with the bear," said Allen earlier this year. "In Whistler, basically a bear shows up and RCMP and conservation officers shoot rubber bullets at it and it runs back into the forest. This is where you get the difference between aversive conditioning and just a deterrent action. They do not follow the bear. They can follow it a little bit but then the bear is back in its natural habitat so you don’t want to shoot at it then," said Allen. "All you are basically doing is scaring it from an area it is not supposed to be in ... you are bumping the bear to another area. Basically you are bouncing bears all over Whistler. It gets the bear out of a problem but its very site-specific and situation dependent." Searles, something of a maverick, is employed by the town of Mammoth to chase bears 24 hours a day. He hit upon his "bear spanking" program after Mammoth police chief Michael Donnelly asked for the glass contractor’s help. Searles had experience in hunting and trapping and he once solved a local coyote problem by killing the marauding pack’s alpha males. Searles studied bears at the town dumpsters for almost a year. He discovered a culture of dominance and he watched how bears marked their territories. In short, he learned how to read their signs and speak their language. He lets a bear know when it is unwelcome in an area. He now has a Karelian bear dog, Tucker, to aid him in his work. This will not be Searles’ first trip to Canada. He was in the country in May this year on a two-day media blitz spreading his word. In an interview with the Mammoth paper on his return, Searles had this to say about his trip: "Reporters called from the North Pole to the West Coast to the East Coast and down to the United Sates border. They’re all very, very interested in what’s going on in Mammoth. They’d never heard of anything like it before – there’s nothing like this going on there and they’re fascinated. They were thrilled and they were so polite," said Searles of Canadians. "They’re sick of killing bears. (Right now) all nuisance bears in their country are shot on sight. But (Canadians) are really, really nice people who (until now) felt they were without any alternatives or options" in dealing with nuisance bears. Dolson said the Wednesday workshop will be a great opportunity for Whistler to showcase what it has accomplished using non-lethal bear management tactics. LeGrandeur has said, without the new method, 100 per cent more bears would have been shot this year. There have been more than 18 bears destroyed in the municipal area this year. There were 18 killed in 1998 but there was also a substantial increase in the number of bear complaints coming out of Whistler this season. "I am very confident in saying at least double the bears would have been shot to date if we did not have this other method," LeGrandeur said earlier this year. He added about half of the bears destroyed had to be put down because they were injured, many as a result of car accidents. Donna Humphries, the Ministry of Environments head of conservation officers, will also speak at the workshop.