Bear deaths up in 2010 

Nine bears destroyed, 10 more killed in vehicle accidents

Bears breaking into homes! Drunks chasing bears up trees! Bears stealing groceries!

It's been a busy year for the Conservation Officers Service - which only has four people working the entire Sea to Sky region - which has seen the number of bear deaths and human-bear conflicts rise since 2009.

No bears were killed last year; nine have been destroyed in 2010, mostly for entering people's homes.

Another 10 bears have been killed in vehicular accidents this year. The Conservation Officer Service has received just over 800 calls in 2010 so far, and had made about 185 responses.

At the Get Bear Smart Society open house last Wednesday (Dec. 1), Sgt. Chris Doyle of the Conservation Officer Service said that destroying a bear is a last resort and done only if the bear is an immediate public safety risk or if the bear is critically injured.

Doyle said bears can find their way into any kind of home if windows and doors are not properly secured. They're most attracted to buildings and homes with large amounts of garbage stored outside or even inside the homes.

"Generally the injuries we have seen from bears being in homes is because you have a bear and a person in a confined space and that's usually a surprise encounter," Doyle said.

"So fortunately they've all been relatively minor injuries but there's nothing to say they couldn't be far worse because we're dealing with an animal that is much, much stronger than usually any person in the house, and even if its main motivation is just to get out of the house, it's going to do whatever is necessary to potentially eliminate that threat."

While 2010 hasn't been as bad as 2007 - the record year for calls received and responses made - Doyle said the rise in conflicts and death is due mainly to a poor berry crop in the alpine, as well as fluctuations in the bear population.

"When you have a good berry crop like last year, you can see the bears aren't getting into conflict as much because they're satisfied or they prefer the natural food if they can get it," Doyle said. "But if bears are hungry, they're going to look for alternative food sources."

A bear needs 20,000 calories a day and when they're getting ready for winter their metabolism goes into overdrive, which Lori Homstol, a wildlife biologist working with Get Bear Smart, said is akin to the feeling humans have after work if they haven't eaten all day.

Only with bears, no matter how much they eat, they never feel full. All they want to do is eat, but she said that doesn't increase aggressive behaviours in bears, the way a human might get cranky if they're hungry.

"If they're eating they're happy," Doyle said, "but it can drive them into higher levels of conflict because the natural food supply is less abundant. It may push them toward homes and it puts them into contact with people."

"They're more active in the fall, so there's more likely to be contact with people as well," Homstol added. "They're not spending as much time sleeping in a day bed, (but) they're not more aggressive toward people."

There is one bear every square kilometre, which means there are between 60 and 100 bears within Whistler town boundaries, which has added to the human-bear interactions. They're very quick learners who adapt easily to human behaviour, which is why Homstol said Get Bear Smart is pushing for better garbage disposal in the community - so bears have less experience with human waste.

They also warn against people feeding bears, as bears become accustomed to human behaviour. Doyle said there have been many instances of party-goers taunting bears after leaving the bar, including one man who climbed a tree after a bear. The bear then bit the man's hand. Earlier this year, a bear approached a woman carrying her groceries to her car. The woman put her groceries down to avoid a confrontation and the bear had his way with her food.

Adequate garbage disposal in the village continues to be a large concern, especially among restaurants that keep their grease barrels in areas that are easy for bears to access. Bylaw officers are proactive about restaurants being negligent about proper garbage disposal.

When bears enter the village, conservation officers will try hazing techniques such as noisemakers and pepper spray to scare bears away. If that doesn't work, they will relocate problem bears to other areas, but Doyle said that practice is problematic as it introduces new bears to areas where other bears may already have been living, disrupting the area. It may also move a problem bear from one town to another, creating a new problem for Pemberton or Lillooet, for example.



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