COS opens investigation into alleged bear feeder 

Feeding bears can lead to an unhealthy reliance on human food

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Despite the constant messaging that feeding bears only turns the wild animals into public safety risks, someone is allegedly providing food for Whistler bruins.

Conservation officer Tim Schumacher confirmed that the Conservation Officer Service (COS) has launched an investigation.

"In Whistler here we've had people in the past that intentionally feed bears to get photos or they think that they're helping the bear and it's doing quite the opposite," said Schumacher, 10 days after Whistler's first bear of 2013 was destroyed.

"It's actually habituating the bear so the bear starts to approach people for food because the bear associates people with food. That becomes a huge public safety risk and it is really bad for the bear, and ultimately usually leads to the death of the bear."

He added that an active investigation into allegations that someone is intentionally feeding a bear has been launched.

Sylvia Dolson, executive director of the Get Bear Smart Society, agrees feeding wild animals puts the animals at risk. She is frustrated that some people don't understand the danger of feeding wild animals.

"Intentionally feeding bears is not that much different from handing them a death sentence," said Dolson.

The best way for Whistler residents and visitors to prevent more bears from getting hooked on human food and ultimately being shot is to make sure that when bears enter populated areas the experience is negative, she added.

"Bears need to stay wild," said Dolson.

She fears for the future of a sow and three cubs currently living in the Alpine Meadows area. According to both Dolson and Schumacher, this particular sow entered homes last year.

Dolson said that bears start to generalize behaviour if they stumble upon something three times. She explained that once a bear becomes comfortable in populated areas they start to find more food rewards that can ultimately lead to entering homes.

"The bears are wild animals and we need to treat them as wild animals," said Dolson.

This means causing them to feel uncomfortable in developed areas.

"They need to be passing through. It's OK for bears to pass through but when they stop and start getting in trouble with people that's the beginning of the end," she said.

The road to destruction for a bear, Dolson explained, could start with feeling comfortable enough in a backyard to raid a bird feeder, greasy barbecue or a compost bin. That can escalate to smelling food through an open window and snatching that food, which can escalate to entering a home to discover that refrigerators and cupboards are filled with food rewards.

"If every single person at every house went outside and chased a bear off and banged on pots and pans all the time there would be no opportunity for the bear to become habituated or food conditioned," Dolson said.

Dolson added that it is really hard for bears to unlearn food habits once they have positive food rewards, so the best way to ensure bears aren't destroyed is to keep them away from our food.

Schumacher said the bear that was destroyed on July 19 was relocated four times previously and it had been hazed just three days earlier when it had entered a home. He added that the resident of the home arrived to discover a messy kitchen and a bear in her home.

"She was able to show us a video that she took of it," said Schumacher.

Once the bear left the home it stayed on the deck long enough to be filmed.

According to Schumacher, a trap is set in Alpine Meadows to capture the other bear that has been entering homes in Alpine and Whistler Cay Heights.

Schumacher noted that the most important message the COS wants to convey is that feeding bears is a bad idea.

All bear conflicts should be reported to the COS by calling the provincial reporting line at 1-877-952-7277.

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