A plea to keep our bears safe 

  • Photo by Kate Hendrixson

Get out an old pot or pan, and leave it by the front door with a good, strong wooden spoon to hit it with.

Leave your camera on the table for another day, or to use while walking on the mountains or in the valley.

When you lock your car for the last time at night, take out the granola bar wrapper, the old sushi take-out container, the nearly empty can of pop.

And for our bear's sakes, clean your ground-floor barbecue, put your bird feeders so far off the ground they cannot be reached except by flight, and never leave your garbage by the front door.

These seem such simple things to do, and yet they are still not being done. For more than 13 years I have been writing them in Pique news stories and now in my editorials.

I am just not sure how to say them more FORCEFULLY.

In emails to the Pique conservation officers write: "... the Conservation Officer Service is imploring residents to take responsibility for the safety of themselves and their local bears by ensuring their houses are secure at all times."

There can be no escape from the fact that every bear that is killed here is our fault.

Now I don't want to anthropomorphize here, but those two cubs down in the Critter Care shelter this week, I'm pretty sure they are missing their mom. She had to be killed because Whistler residents did a poor job of securing their homes and waste.

And while we are at it, let's spare a thought for our conservation officers, or even the RCMP, who get called to deal with bears whose bad behaving is human caused.

Don't think for a moment that they want to take the life of an animal. Perhaps people would behave more responsibly if the officers asked the people behind the problems to pull the trigger?

Sylvia Dolson, the executive director of the Get Bear Smart Society, says this on her latest blog: "So-called 'problem' bears are not born; they are the product of human carelessness and indifference. Although not all bears develop into conflict animals, those that frequent developed areas where garbage and other bear attractants are easily accessible are much more likely to get into trouble.

"Bears get into conflict with people when they are trained, or conditioned, to want non-natural food sources such as garbage."

She goes on to remind us that bears can learn from a single experience.

"Cubs learn the fundamental skills of survival from their mother. If the mother spends most of her time foraging for food at a landfill or from another human garbage source, this is the behaviour the cubs will learn — and, often, repeat," writes Dolson.

Black bears have always lived here, in the valley and on the mountains. And as development began here in the '90s the writing was on the wall for our ursine neighbours.

In a column last year for Pique by bear researcher Michael Allen, he recalled how in 1994 he managed to snap a photo of 18 bears at one time at the old garbage dump in Function, now the site of the Cheakamus Crossing community. The bears were simply adapting to food sources, and at the time little thought was given to the issue. To many, the bears were a great attraction — something to go see on any visit to the growing resort. Resident mothers at the time, reported Allen, were having three-litter cubs.

But after 1999, when the landfill was surrounded by an electric fence those types of aggregations of bears were never seen again. But bears, once conditioned to that source of food were not easy to get rid of. Over the next eight years more than 100 holes were dug by bears to get in.

Said Allen in the 2013 article, "The landfill at times had a rather ironically humourous scenario of fenced-in bears instead of the fence keeping the bears out."

When the landfill was closed permanently in preparation for the 2010 Olympic Games the bear population again went though another upheaval.

As the years pass the bears are forced by development and human expansion to keep adapting. Just think of the number of bears we see in the ever-growing bike park and on our golf courses.

This scenario is unlikely to change. Whistler will continue to develop and the animals that live here are forced to adapt. Have we become better partners in Mother Nature's two-step? I believe we have, but there is much still to do.

Let's not forget that the bears, our amazing wildlife — whether it is birds, marmots or other creatures — are an important part of the allure for our visitors. We must shepherd them, not just for the success of the resort, but because it is the right thing to do.

Having four bears killed already here this summer is shocking — these deaths are the responsibility of the whole community.

"We have reached the annual rate of sustainable, human-caused bear mortality," Dolson told Pique this week.

"Anything that happens beyond this is completely not sustainable for our bear population."

Anything that happens is our fault.


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