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Black Bear Working Group tackles mismanaged trash

New garbage bylaw, higher quality garbage bins just some of measures taken

As a result of increased bear activity throughout town, Whistler’s Black Bear Working Group is cracking down on garbage mismanagement.

The group, which consists of local stakeholders, has been hard at work the past year to create real solutions to human-bear problems, including drafting a new garbage bylaw.

The bylaw, which is awaiting approval from council, will replace 1999’s Garbage Disposal Bylaw No. 1445 and could be in effect as soon as next spring.

“This one will be more all encompassing for attractants. Things like bird feeders or landscaping, and it is more up to date than the previous one,” said Veronica Woodruff, spokesperson for the group.

“The previous one was just a soils and deposits bylaw. It wasn’t specific to garbage. It was just specific to dumping and that kind of thing,” she said.

The Black Bear Working Group also recently installed 10 commercial “BearSaver” bins throughout the village to further deal with garbage mismanagement. At $2,000 each, these new bins are more durable and effective than the other bins currently used throughout town.

“I am sure you have used the most common bear bins — the ones with the latch on the top, and you lift them up and throw your garbage in. Well there are a couple of key flaws,” said Woodruff.

“First of all, if the bear flips them over and the whole lid isn’t latched, that whole lid is just gravity held down and it can just flip over. And bears have actually learned to flip them over,” she said.

Woodruff added that the older bins are more difficult for humans to use too.

“So people tend to open them up and then they can’t reach the lid to close it. Or they are just used improperly. Whereas the new BearSaver bins, it is front loading, so even a short person can use them. And they latch very well,” she said.

To further take on the garbage issue, the group organized several forums, focus groups, and workshops to learn about people’s awareness of bear issues. These sessions have been successful in helping the group pinpoint areas to focus their energy.

During a focus group session held in August, the group identified three main barriers that cause people to not properly get ride of their trash. These were: lack of a municipal garbage collection, the long distance to garbage depots from some residential areas, and the fact that some residents lack access to a vehicle to transport garbage to the garbage depots.

Woodruff said based on these results and other research done, the Black Bear Working Group will continue to work on the garbage issue next year, as well as install signs along the highway to try and prevent bear road kill.

Whistler’s exploding bear population, coupled with a growing human population, has lead to many human-bear conflict situations. According to Conservation Officer Chris Doyle, 1,384 people called the Conservation Officer call centre this year to report black bears. About 50 black bears successfully broke into people’s homes, and Conservation Officers had to destroy 11 bears. Six bears were also killed by motor vehicles.

Despite these statistics, Woodruff said Whistler’s management techniques have been used as a model by many communities around the world on how to deal with the animals.

She said that the structure of the Black Bear Working Group has allowed local bear issues to be discussed from several different perspectives at one time.

“It really is the quintessential working group just because we have all those players at the table,” said Woodruff.

“So you are not working solo as the Get Bear Smart Society as a non profit. You actually have input from the Conservation Officers and people that are on the ground dealing with these bears day to day,” she said.

The Black Bear Working Group was founded in 2002 and consists of the Get Bear Smart Society; Resort Municipality of Whistler – Bylaw, Environmental Service Department; RCMP; Province of British Columbia – Conservation Officer Service, Bear Aware Program, Large Mammal Research Team, VANOC; and Carneys Waste Systems.

The group meets monthly to collaborate on waste management, educational initiatives, bylaw enforcement and use of non-lethal bear management.