Bear fatalities down in 2003 

Difficult to draw conclusions from statistics because of abundance of food

Living with bears isn’t always easy, but there are signs that things are getting better as the number of serious human-bear conflicts continues to decline.

Still, the results of municipal bear awareness campaigns appear to be mixed as the number of incidents reported of bear conflicts related to garbage and other attractants are up.

"It’s actually very difficult to say what’s going on from the data, because 2003 was a very good food year," said Sylvia Dolson, the executive director of the Jennifer Jones Whistler Bear Society.

"Last year the calls were all in the early spring and summer, and this year they were in the late fall. I actually just got a call this morning (Dec. 30). I think that some long-term residents are leaving garbage on the porch and putting seed in their feeders, not realizing that the bears are still awake."

Part of the reason the bears haven’t gone into hibernation is because there is still food available, she said.

The J.J. Whistler Bear Society has been tracking the number of incidents reported to the RCMP, Conservation Officers and the society’s bear phone.

According to the 2003 report, one bear was destroyed and another bear relocated, compared to six destroyed and four relocated in 2002. One bear was also killed on the highway by a motor vehicle.

As recently as 1999, the police and conservation officers killed 20 problem bears. By using non-lethal bear kits, a concerted effort by the municipality, police and other emergency services has reduced the number of bear kills significantly in recent years.

While the low number of killed and relocated bears is encouraging, 56 per cent of all 2003 bear calls related to garbage and other attractants. That’s up from 27 per cent the year before.

"The difficult thing for Whistler is that there is such a high turnover of people living here and visiting here," Dolson said. "There’s a new crop of people every year that have to be educated.

"I think most long-term residents know the drill by now."

Dolson says that programs are in place to educate new employees, but more awareness is needed.

The JJWBS is also part of a project planned for this spring to put radio collars on 20 bears that have been "hazed" using non-lethal bear aversion tools. The funding has yet to be secured, but if the program gets off the ground Dolson says it will give police and conservation officers more information on what works and what doesn’t. For example, if the same bear keeps returning to the same area then more aggressive bear aversion techniques might be needed. In addition, bears might be risking human conflicts because there is a powerful attractant in the area.

"We were called to one area where a bear was going around taking bites out of all the hot tub covers. We called in an expert and discovered in the bear’s scat that they were feeding on Rosehip plants in the area," said Dolson.

One of the society’s priorities for next year is to put together a guide for landscapers advising them which plants and bushes are known to attract bears.

There were less calls to report sightings (down to 38 per cent compared to 49 per cent in 2002), and there were also fewer incidences involving bears in or near a residence or vehicle – 16.5 per cent in 2003 compared to 23 per cent in 2002.

Reported incidents in the Alpine, Whistler Cay and Brio subdivisions were reduced by half compared to last year, and the number of incidents were up for White Gold.

In 2002 most of the reports occurred in the spring or summer, while most of the 2003 reports were from the fall.

Some 72 per cent of all bear calls were attended, and the bears were gone on arrival about 30 per cent of the time. About 13 per cent of incidents, 23 calls, resulted in property damage, and negative conditioning (bear bangers, rubber bullets, etc.) were used in 26 per cent of calls.

Five bears were involved in motor vehicle accidents and one, a cub, was destroyed humanely.

Dolson says the majority of motor vehicle accidents involving bears occur north of Alpine and in the Function Junction area, and suggests that drivers take extra care in these areas.

The RCMP handled most of the calls, responding to 116 out of 128 bear reports. Conservation Officers attended 12 out of 47 bear reports, and the J.J. Whistler Bear Society attended 21 out of 31 calls.

Some 102 bear calls were related to garbage or other household, yard attractants. There were 30 reports of bears in or near homes or vehicles.

In addition, the Whistler Black Bear Project recorded 150 bear sightings in 2003, mostly outside of human-bear conflict areas.

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