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Get Bear Smart seeks to curb “bear jams”

The bear jams need to stop.

The bear jams need to stop.

That's the message the Get Bear Smart Society is sending to Whistler in order to curb a rash of "bear jams" along the highway - specifically the practice of pulling over to the side of a highway to see a black bear eating roadside grass.

The society's executive director Sylvia Dolson was referring to a number of occurrences over the May long weekend but made particular reference to a May 28 incident in which a bear was shot after an unleashed dog jumped out of a car and started barking at it.

At around 5 p.m. on the day in question the Whistler RCMP were forced to kill a bear alongside the highway between Brandywine Park and Function Junction after members of the public got a little too close for comfort.

RCMP were manning a road safety check at Function. A driver came through and told them that cars had pulled to the side of the road about two kilometers south to watch a bear grazing in a roadside ditch.

The RCMP arrived and some vehicles pulled away, but a dog sitting in one of the vehicles and ran towards the bear. The bear attacked the dog, causing injuries, and did not stop after police fired warning shots. Police killed the bear at the scene because it was in close proximity to the owner and the dog was taken to WAG for treatment.

Dolson is talking to B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation about installing signs along the side of the highway to stop such roadside attractions. She's also looking at establishing some more stringent fines for stopping, but she's not sure for how much.

"People should not stop," she said. "I understand that visitors, they're excited to see the bear, but they're really risking their own safety as well as the bears'. I think the biggest risk is to human safety, I see people standing in the middle of a highway during a bear jam, taking pictures so that they're not paying attention to traffic.

"I really think it's an accident waiting to happen."

Dolson was also reacting to an incident in Whistler Village that likewise took place over the May Long Weekend. On Saturday morning a large group of spectators gathered around a tree near the Village Stroll bridge. A mid-sized bear repeatedly retreated up the tree as people took photographs.

The RCMP and Conservation Officer Service attended the situation created a corridor for the bear to escape. They used bear bangers to try and scare it out of the village, but the bear kept returning to the tree. After four hours they decided there was nothing else they could do but tranquilize the animal.

It took four people to carry the sleeping bear, which fell out of the tree, to a conservation officer's truck. It was then transported to the Callaghan area south of Whistler and woke up in good health, according to the officer.

Dolson said she's not certain how crowds can be managed around bears but added that people are putting themselves at risk by doing it.

"That bear is eventually going to get uncomfortable and try to flee," she said. "If it's surrounded by people, it's going to wait for an opening. A bystander can be injured, they can be whacked or bitten or even trampled over."