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Whistler bucked B.C.-wide bear-conflict trends this year

Squamish-based company tackles organic waste at construction sites
WASTE NOT, WANT NOT Sea to Sky Removal is an initiative launched by husband-and-wife Chris Arkell and Cinci Csere, left, that aims to not only deter bears from construction sites but also divert recyclables from the landfill. Photo submitted

In a year when bear conflicts have risen across B.C., Whistler has seen a drop-off thanks to a combination of factors, according to the Conservation Officer Service (COS).

Since April 1, there have been 222 bear-related calls to the COS in the Whistler area, down from 260 in the year spanning April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017, and 278 the year before that. There were a total of three bears killed by COS in Whistler this year.* That's down from 10 in all the prior year, and nine in 2015-16.

That runs counter to the provincial trend, which saw roughly 14,400 conflicts reported and around 500 bears destroyed due to conflict. In August, the province said bear reports across B.C. had skyrocketed, pacing at nearly double the rate from the same period last year.

Sgt. Simon Gravel with the COS said a confluence of causes likely led to Whistler's "low-conflict year."

"I feel we've perhaps reached a good balance" of environmental and social factors, he said. "We were lucky with good weather and a good berry crop in the alpine. I believe the berries stayed late enough, and we had more than we were expecting, so it kept the bears high in the mountains until the snow came... I'd always like to believe we're also getting better as a community to secure attractants."

Gravel said there has been something of an educational "blitz" locally in recent years that has been spearheaded not only by the COS, but other community groups such as the Whistler Get Bear Smart Society and the citizen-led Whistler Wildlife Protection Group that has helped to move the needle on proper bear-smart practices.

"I think we're getting better with communication with the community and we're perhaps getting better as a community to control attractants. Is it perfect? Probably not, so it's ongoing work," he said.

Part of that work is being spearheaded through an initiative launched this summer aimed at removing organic waste from construction sites. Sea to Sky Removal is the brainchild of husband-and-wife Chris Arkell and Cinci Csere, who have taken an "environmentally progressive approach to commercial-waste hauling" that was recently recognized with a Small Business BC Awards nomination for Best Concept.

"We service a lot of construction sites and there's a pretty decent-sized issue with construction sites not having proper bear-proof bins or the lockable receptacles for their food waste," Arkell explained. "So a lot of sites are just throwing it into their garbage piles, which will either be in a Carney's bin without a lid or even just into a pile on the ground."

Construction crews hire the Squamish-based company to sort through construction waste by hand — a technique called "live-loading" — that aims to divert recyclable and reusable materials from the landfill.

Whistler's RDC Fine Homes has signed on with the company, which diverted 300 pounds (136 kilograms) of recyclables on a recent job.

"The organic side to the construction industry is basically a non-thought (for most companies), so we're kind of the pioneers in getting them to change their mentality," Arkell said. "Even if there wasn't a bear issue, it's just good to keep the organics separate from the waste that's going into (the landfill)."

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Using information provided by the Conservation Officer Service, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that four bears had been killed in Whistler this year.

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