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Three bears killed in Whistler over four-day period

'One of the worst seasons I've ever seen,' says Get Bear Smart's Sylvia Dolson

UPDATE: Another bear was killed in the Riverside Resort RV park and campground Thursday morning, Aug. 7, after Pique's print deadline.

The bear had been previously slated for destruction by conservation officers after it entered three houses in White Gold this summer.

"When it was exhibiting this behaviour in the campground, we determined it was the same bear (from White Gold) and had no real option but to destroy it because it had been into three occupied residences previously," said Sgt. Peter Busink.

This marks the fourth bear destroyed in Whistler over the last week.

A bear that conservation officers were forced to kill last week was so habituated to humans that it walked up to people in the village and smelled their hands.

"He was showing signs of habituation that was very concerning behaviour for us because people were approaching him within two or three feet and taking pictures," said Conservation Officer Simon Gravel of the bear, who was killed Aug. 2.

"I got information from bikers that they observed people throwing food at him (near the Whistler Mountain Bike Park) as well."

Conservation officers consider the village a no-go zone for bears due to the high potential for conflict, said Gravel, who spent several hours hazing the tagged bear out of the busy area to no avail.

"He went away a few times but was persistent and came back," he said, adding that Saturday was not the first time this bear was seen in the village. "He was very difficult to chase and was not afraid of me at all."

Two more bears were destroyed in Whistler over the span of four days last week, raising concerns from the Conservation Officer Service (COS) that not enough residents are reporting wildlife sightings when they occur.

A sow with a long history of conflict was captured and killed Thursday, July 31, after she managed to break through the window of a residence on Alta Lake Road. A woman and her son were in the townhouse at the time and locked themselves in a bedroom while the animal rummaged through the kitchen. The RCMP responded and hazed the bear away, only to see it return and attempt to gain entry through the same window.

The sow and her cub were eventually captured, and the cub was taken to the Critter Care facility in Langley, where he will remain until he's old enough to be released.

The bear had been a problem for authorities for over a month, said Gravel, and had previously entered a building through an open door in Bayshores, had accessed and become trapped in a shed shortly after that and had also gained entry to several vehicles.

"We dealt with her on many occasions and we knew she was slowly becoming more of a public safety concern because she was trying to enter buildings," Gravel said, adding that the kind of behaviour the sow demonstrated by forcing her way though a closed window is never tolerated by the COS.

"According to our bear management matrix, this bear was definitely at the threshold where she had to be destroyed for public safety reasons."

The third death occurred Sunday, Aug. 3, when a bear that had been accessing numerous homes and vehicles since early July entered the main level of an occupied residence before obtaining a food reward in the kitchen.

Another high-conflict bear was captured and relocated to an alpine region on Friday, Aug. 1.

This season has seen a total of seven bears destroyed in Whistler, with Get Bear Smart Society executive director Sylivia Dolson calling the summer "a catastrophe." An additional three bears have been killed as a result of motor-vehicle accidents.

"It's one of the worst seasons I've ever seen," she said, attributing the high level of conflict to a poor berry season and, more importantly, to Whistlerites who aren't doing enough to ensure the safety of our bear population.

"People need to report inappropriate bear behaviour as it occurs so there's the potential to prevent it in the future with non-lethal bear aversion tactics before that behaviour escalates," said Dolson, who added that she'd like to see stiffer penalties in place for people who potentially put bears in danger.

"People also need to start deterring bears from urban and backyard spaces themselves by just not making them comfortable."

That means creating a negative experience for a bear in a populated area by banging pots and pans together from a safe distance. If you don't feel comfortable hazing a bear away on your own, Dolson said it's imperative to report the sighting to authorities and to not create a positive experience by approaching the animal.

A major issue for the COS in Whistler is the belief among some residents that reporting a bear to officers will inevitably result in that animal's destruction — a perception that is simply not true, according to Sgt. Peter Busink.

"Unfortunately, that's the opposite of the truth. People not making the calls contribute more to a bear's death than some other things," he said. "We need to hear about these bears early because when we hear about them when their level of habituation and food conditioning is low, we've got a lot more options to intervene with non-lethal methods."

Both Dolson and Busink expressed frustration over the community's seeming unwillingness to take responsibility for bears' safety — and ultimately their own. Recently, Busink said the COS has taken to using "stronger language and different tactics" to try and change peoples behaviour and deliver "real knowledge that will save a bear's life instead of making us the easy scapegoat."

A related concern in a place like Whistler, Gravel said, is that people are so tolerant of wildlife they don't realize they need to report bear sightings immediately.

"One thing we can change in Whistler to save more bears is to not tolerate them as much because we often never receive a phone call that a bear is in an area somewhere," he explained. "I understand that, I have a strong respect for wildlife as well ... but maybe we have to question ourselves as a community; should we tolerate those bears so close to our homes? We pretty much tolerate them to a point that eventually they get into conflicts and aren't afraid to push the boundaries that lead to their destruction."

The COS strongly urges the public to report wildlife sightings immediately at 1-877-952-7277.

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