Bad year for the bears of Whistler 

Poor alpine berry crop forced bears to resort to feeding on garbage

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It was a tough year for the bear population in Whistler with an above average number of bears destroyed in 2011.

A total of 14 bears were killed in the Whistler area this year and Inspector Chris Doyle of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service said that number is higher than usual. He added that bear complaints were still being logged in Whistler as late as last week.

"There are still bears out there still looking for non-natural food so people should be aware of that," Doyle said.

Over the course of 2011, the B.C. Conservation Officer Service received 1,800 Sea to Sky Corridor complaints about wildlife conflicts and most of those involved black bears.

August was the busiest bear month in Whistler, said Doyle, with almost 200 complaint calls logged. Doyle added that a steady number of complaints were logged from June through to October. The bear population in Whistler endured a poor berry crop and the lack of natural food sources forced Whistler bears to seek out human food more frequently than in normal berry crop years.

"It is frustrating in that a lot of the conflicts that we experienced were preventable," said Doyle. "People's carelessness led bears to access garbage. Every year we get reports of people deliberately feeding bears as well in Whistler, which makes it extremely difficult for us to manage those bears because no matter how much negative conditioning or hazing we deploy on those bears it can all be undone by one person approaching and feeding the bears."

Doyle said Squamish experienced an average year for bear complaints, but Mount Currie logged a larger than usual number of calls about bears early in the year.

"Those were associated to a high number of bears that had been feeding on garbage at the landfill over the last few years," said Doyle. "The fence was re-electrified this year so we did see a higher number of bear complaints in the Mount Currie area."

Doyle said a large number of bears were trapped in Whistler and moved within their home range.

Bear researcher Michael Allen reported the discovery of a dead bear in the Whistler Community Forest. Allen couldn't be reached for comment by Pique but Doyle shared what he knew.

"From the information he provided us it appears that a bear was possibly pulled out of a den and set upon by another bear," said Doyle. He said this is a rare occurrence and the first time he's heard of this happening if in fact that is what led to the demise of the bear. He noted that this particular bear could also have stepped out of its den and may have been hit be a vehicle and died from its injuries.

Jeanie, one of Whistler's best known bears, was put down by the Conservation Officer Service in October and her cub, Jeanette, is now living at the Critter Care Wildlife Facility in Langley.

According to the operators of Critter Care, Jeanette is now hibernating in one of the dens at the centre in Langley. In the spring the centre operators plan to release her back into the wild.

The Conservation Officer Service concluded Jeanie was a public safety risk following three weeks of aggressive behaviour that included charging people and breaking into buildings. In the past, Jeanie responded well to non-lethal aversion tactics like shooting her with beanbags and scaring her with loud devices aimed at chasing her away from populated areas. Doyle said Jeanie was put down after attempts to find a home for her in a sanctuary didn't work out and her behaviour started putting people at risk.

Another bear garnered international headlines when it entered a restaurant to help himself to a few pizzas. Doyle said that bear was relocated outside of its home range near Whistler and it was the only animal given a long distance ride.

Near the end of the year a bear discovered in a garbage truck in the middle of downtown Vancouver was captured and relocated to the Sea to Sky Corridor.

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