Editorial 

We all pulled the trigger that killed Jeanie

A heavy bar has finally been welded across the garbage-room door at one village eatery so bears can't get in and slather up oil and other human-rejected food that is oh so irresistible to the ursine creatures we share this valley with.

Sadly it seems to have taken the killing of one of Whistler's most beloved bears, Jeanie, for this action to be taken.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not just blaming the eateries that Jeanie targeted in her last few weeks of life for her ultimate demise-I'm laying the blame on the whole community.

For as long as I have lived in Whistler - over 15 years now - I have been writing about Jeanie locally, nationally and internationally. Radio stations in England and Australia have interviewed me about her.

Thanks to a BBC documentary about her life, all of my family in the U.K. know her and commonly ask about her. This week their social media posts said it all: "How could Whistler kill the bear the whole world thinks of as the community's icon?"

Good question - with a very long and complex answer. But the nut of it is we made Jeanie who she was, a human-food habituated bear, then we asked her to pay the ultimate price for our mistakes.

Jeanie helped teach the world about how bears and humans interact. And we used her to not just sell the resort and its message of natural and serene beauty, but to try and spread the message that wild creatures and people can live and thrive together in a resort.

But this week I am left questioning that very premise. Nine bears have been reported killed by vehicles on our roads this year, 13 bears have been trapped and re-located as problem bears, and 10 other bears have been destroyed as conflict bears. And this has occurred while we work inside our Bear Smart strategy. In two years we have lost half the bear population to man-made causes and the elements.

Just last month we were finally given the provincial designation of a Bear Smart community. Forgive me if I don't feel we are very "smart" right now.

Scientists the world over argue the dangers of anthropomorphizing the animals around us, but we nevertheless did that to Jeanie as a community.

And I have to then ask myself, since that was the case; did we not owe a greater duty to this 20-year-old senior bear to repay her for the life she has shared with us, with a commitment to make sure she lived out her days?

There is no doubt in my mind that pulling the trigger that killed the tranquillized mother-bear was heartbreaking for the conservation officers who had spent so many days, indeed years, trying to manage her behaviour.

But was a 30-cent cartridge the only answer?

Efforts were made to locate her to a captive shelter to live out her days. But she was a wild animal and the only dignified way for Jeanie to die was to meet her end in the wilderness.

Should we have considered re-locating her at a greater distance even if there was a high likelihood she may have died trying to return to her home territory on Whistler Mountain?

For many years now the resort has struggled with its relationship with bears. But there is constant learning - after all we don't go to the dump anymore to take pictures of them or feed them buns - at the same time, though, we all know a story about garbage being left outside a home, or a business or housing complex that hasn't secured its waste.

There are bylaws and provincial laws in place to tackle these types of offenses, but it's just not that common for the violations to be acted upon and the consequences are not much of a deterrent.

And we have all seen overflowing garbage cans in the village on busy weekends.

There has to be zero tolerance for inappropriate waste storage and/or disposal - it's the only way. We need to be proactive and we need to look at how our transient workers, who rely on buses for transportation, can get their garbage to the compactors as well.

In Jeanie's case her behaviour pattern, until now, had always been that if she didn't get food from a source after a couple of tries she'd moved on - hopefully back into bear habitat country.

This year, more than most, village food outlets should be particularly vigilant. It's the worst berry crop in 18 years and the bears are suffering for it. Though a necropsy showed that Jeanie was in good shape there is no doubt that she would not have come to the village searching for food if she could have found it as easily for herself and her cub on the mountain. If she hadn't found human food, perhaps she would have foraged farther afield and I would probably be writing another election editorial instead.

In some First Nations legends bears are the keeper of dreams. That is how I think of Jeanie - she kept the dream alive that people and wild creatures can share the same space together.

This spring I'll be planting a mountain ash in memory of Jeanie and to help the female cub left behind who will be returned to her Whistler home range. Perhaps by creating new foraging through the Get Bear Smart Society habitat replacement program, we can keep bears away from the village and keep them out of trouble.

What are you going to do?

 

 

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