Aggressive bear killed in Village 

Experts differ on strategies to deal with increasingly problematic animals

Shortly after midnight on, Saturday, July 11, a black bear was shot dead in Whistler Village near The Pan Pacific. The bear had been lunging and bluff-charging pedestrians when Conservation Officer Chris Doyle made the decision to destroy the animal.

This marked the third black bear to be destroyed this year as a result of human-bear conflict.

"The bear was lunging at pedestrians in the village area around the base of the mountain. The RCMP were attending," says Doyle. "They used non-lethal techniques to deter the animal. Reluctantly it went up the mountain but it returned about an hour later and was lunging at people again."

In June, conservation officers trapped and destroyed an adult female black bear whose persistent behaviour posed a threat to public safety. Initially relocated to the interpretative forest after breaking into homes in White Gold, the bear returned to the resort area and was found tearing into tents in the Riverside Campground.

Earlier this year, a young male bear wandered into the Four Seasons construction site, trapping itself on the ninth floor of one of the project’s towers and had to be destroyed.

"It’s the worst part of the job," the conservation office states. "It’s a balancing act – it’s public safety versus trying to keep the bears in the population."

To protect both the animals and people, Doyle says it’s necessary to report all bear-related incidents. Conservation Services needs to know about a bear before it becomes a problem. The less aggressive a bear’s behaviour, the better candidate it is for non-lethal management techniques such as aversion or relocation.

"We’re getting calls from people who admit that they’ve already had a bear in the house, but didn’t report it because they didn’t want to see it destroyed. Just because a bear goes in a house doesn’t mean it’s going to be destroyed," Doyle emphasizes.

Sylvia Dolson, executive director of JJ Whistler Bear Society, echoes this sentiment.

"People who call me say, ‘I won’t call conservation or the police because they’ll kill the bear.’ Conservation and the RCMP are totally committed to non-lethal bear management."

So far this year, Michael Allen, founder of The Whistler Black Bear Project, has received reports of 12 different bears going into homes in Whistler.

"It’s just a matter of time before someone gets hurt," says Allen adding, "No where else n North America do you hear of this frequency of bears breaking into residences."

While Allen is in favour of any method that saves bears’ lives, he believes that aversion therapy techniques have not been applied in Whistler. He explains that true aversion techniques require that humans intervene before the bear has exhibited aggressive behaviour, such as entering a human residence. To achieve this the animal has to be monitored through a radio-collar, allowing humans to track it and essentially cut it off at the pass. Repeated negative reinforcement – in the form of pelting the animal with rubber bullets or beanbags – can affect long-term behaviour changes.

Allen characterizes current deterrent efforts as "hazing" – harassing the bear so it returns to its natural environment.

"If all it does is alleviate killing a bear for two years, it hasn’t worked well," he says.

Allen sees implementing a community-wide garbage management program as essential to managing the bear problem. He believes that applying aversion therapy techniques and other non-lethal management strategies before that would be futile.

"You have to cut off the source of the problem," Allen states. "Then apply non-lethal methods and put radio collars on them."

While he commends the RMOW for the excellent job it has done in bear proofing the village, municipal parks and the landfill, he remains acutely concerned about residential garbage.

"We need bear-proof dumpsters in every community. Residents need garbage disposal within walking distance," says Allen, who first brought the idea forward in 1995.

He notes that garbage removal is incredibly difficult for people without cars. Consequently, garbage ends up outside on balconies and porches, creating an easily accessible food source for the bears.

Dolson and Doyle agree wholehearted with Allen on this point.

"You have to remove the potential for food rewards," says Doyle.

Dolson points out that fruit trees, bird feeders and dirty barbecue grills are also attractive to bears.

"The fact that bears are comfortable eating in the presence of people is leading the conflict," she says.

Built in prime bear habitat, Whistler’s location makes human-bear conflicts inevitable. With approximately one bear per square kilometre, the valley and surrounding mountains support an estimated population of 100 bears.

" A lot of the bears are super-habituated. And they’re getting bolder and more aggressive," says Doyle.

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