feature 217 

By Sallye Fotheringham 6:15 a.m. "Sallye, there's a bear up your skinny alder swaying back and forth, looking in your open skylight." 7:00 a.m. "Sallye, that sow's here again with her cub grubbing in your rotted log in your backyard. And don't go out. There's another bear sitting in your front yard pulling all the berries off your bush." 7:30 a.m. "Sallye, that bear's asleep on your back porch again, so don't open the door and throw out your papers." 9:30 a.m. "Sallye, that cinnamon bear's just put his paws up on your kitchen window and is eyeing your breakfast. He's huge, like a ruddy gorilla!" 10:00 a.m. "Sallye, your old collie just put a cub way up the birch tree by your front door. Mama is half up and fighting mad." 11:30 a.m. "Sallye, mama bear is still sleeping up against your cabin. The cub is asleep up the tree." Noon-peace. Two just strolled through on their way to the creek, just like old times. The way they've done for many, many summers. 3:15 p.m. "Sallye, that cinnamon bear's sunning himself in your back yard. He's lying on his stomach, scratching his tummy. He's been there for several hours." 5:00 p.m. "Sallye, look out, that black bear's watching you fix your fence. He seems to sense why you're repairing it." 5:30 p.m. "Sallye, another bear's just going down the side of your cabin. My gawd, he's taking the windshield wipers off your truck. He's huge. Lord, he just catapulted through your truck window. He can't turn around inside. Oh, he just wee weed on your seat. Look at your truck rocking back and forth." 5:55 p.m. "Sallye, the bear just shot out of your truck after Doug banged on the side. Now he's doing a big poop in your front yard." 9:30 p.m. "Sallye, the bear's on your back porch with his nose up against your screen door. Quick, shut the door! Oh, and the patchy blonde and brown one's coming through now." 11:00 p.m. The bear and I are personally introduced as we collide on the front garden path as I check the night time bugs crunching on my daisies. Fastest 100 yard sprint in history up to the A frame. Done in full dressing gown and slippers. 11:30 p.m. Arthritic old dog, after a full day's work, finally chases last bear partially up birch tree, sinks his jaw into his rump, then his neck. Wise, old bear, knows perfectly well this pesky dog doesn't have any teeth and saunters down the yard, up and over the fence. 3:00 a.m. Awaken to bear coughing in back yard. Forgot I had put a deterrent midnight cocktail of curry, paprika and pepper corns sprinkled on his favourite rotted log. Nesters has never sold so much paprika. It worked until the next rainfall. Hard to believe. But this was just a normal, summer, sunny day last year at Chez Foth's palace down among the cedar grove and fir stands. Just a normal day with concerned neighbours yelling out the bears' progress through the yards. But mama, papa and baby bear, all their relatives and hangers on will momentarily be peeping out from their winter den. Goldilocks, here, is not so sure she wants the teddy bear parade through her ferns and berries to start up again this month. Bears in Whistler and what to do about them? Tourists love them. They're so cute! Locals tolerate them. After all, they were here before us. And our commercial outlets and condo complexes feed them because of improper garbage containment. Oh, I know, we have electric fences, super duper bear-proof bins with fancy lids. But if there wasn't any outdoor garbage in Whistler — none at all, on porches or in bins — the bears would just stroll through on their natural migratory paths, on the way towards creek water or cool summer dens. They would not become unwanted tenants in our backyards. Sooner or later, probably sooner, like this summer, Whistler is going to have its first bear attack. Then all hell will descend; bears will be totally removed from amongst us. Shoot. No time for choppering them out. And Whistler will be in damage control mode. Faster than a speeding gondola, Whistler will descend from number one in the world to an also ran. "Bear mauls child. Scalp ripped off." "Tot clings to life. Lawyer dad says he'll sue." Media will converge. Helmut Banka's wild and woolly wolf dogs will pale in comparison. We don't dare read the paper. We'll circle our 4x4's as BCTV and UTV strut their stuff with close ups of blood and bones. Bear experts will wonder how we could have been so stupid as to tolerate humans and bears habituating together, etcetera, etcetera. We will hang our heads in shame. We all knew it was an accident waiting to happen. Bears may have been here first, but you can be absolutely sure they, not us, well be the first to go. I don't have a PhD in bear detective work but the bears have chosen my yard, for lo these many summers, to laze about in. And I'm privileged (ah, sort of) to have them as my non-paying tenants. But, I'm the landlord and I want them to return to their daily habits of just simply strolling through. No over nighters. No damage deposits required. No five to a yard. Mayor Ted, you're great at the anti swearing bylaws, the husky grab and burns, but "F___ off" and a blind, inbred puppy are just a warm-up for the tragedy awaiting your beloved resort municipality. So, what do we do? Simple solution. There will be no commercial or household garbage allowed outdoors in Whistler. None at all. Three readings and it's passed. Owners and property managers will either keep their garbage indoors or take it to one of the two municipal compactors. A time limit will be set for stores to comply. All new building permits will require indoor garbage disposal complete with sprinkler systems. There will never be another McDonald's with its compactor smack in the middle of a parking lot. (Even Squamish has its compactor indoors). I know, I know, residents and tenants will whine for a week or so. But coupled with hefty fines on the owners' tax rolls, the problem is solved. And we can go back to enjoying the bears and their majestic beauty as they return to munch on their natural grasses and berries. Owen Carney, head honcho of Carney's Waste Systems, says, "I'm just stepping up to the plate and trying to save the bear problem by putting bear proof bins in place by the week's end." He's paying for them himself, wouldn't say how much. "No one is forcing me to do so," Carney says. "For 25 years I've been trying to outsmart these bears. It's been a bit of a challenge," he laughs. Carney feels the compactors are not a problem. He feels his new bins with hinged lids are the answer. I disagree. Outdoors, garbage will still smell. Some always falls on the ground. And hot weather and rancid food don't mix. All our new electric fence will do, I believe, is move the old timer bears down into Function Junction. They won't high tail up to the high country. Hatto will have his hands full when a couple of 500 pound old timers drop in for tea! Carney says there are about 50 outdoor bins outside the village proper — Creekside, Function, Alpine, Shoestring, assorted condo complexes. All bins are indoors in the Benchlands and at Lake Placid, he says. "It's the condos that are the problem," he stresses. Guests cannot be expected to know all our garbage-bear laws. "It's pretty well impossible to stop the bears hanging around these bins and compactors when they've been hanging around here for 40,000 years." Carney feels the answer is either a bear proof, outdoor bin or an indoor bin. Not good enough, this writer says. All bins and compactors should be inside. Property managers should manage, including garbage disposal. And at the end of the day, small commercial owners or staff should take the garbage to the municipal sites. Even these two sites should have partial electric fences. "One thing is for sure," says Dave Elliot, District Supervisor and conservation office for the corridor, "the bears are not going to go away." Indoor garbage may make the Whistler experience safer. "But as Whistler becomes more and more urbanized, situated in a lush, mountain setting, Whistler is going to have more and more bears," claims Elliot. "More and more." "Unlike many wild animals, bears eat both plants and meat. Urban development brings more bears. They love the lush green grass of our golf courses and our grassy back yards," he says. The Green Lakes Golf Course had nothing to do with the bear problem last summer, Elliot feels. The development did not displace the bears from their natural habitat. In fact, he says, the bear problem has been building up over the last few years. "Sows were having four cubs last summer. They only have as many cubs as health allows. If the habitat is poor, even though they have been impregnated, they will not have cubs," Elliot says. "Healthy sows mean a large bear population. And more and more development means more and more bears." Last year, Elliot says, he and his staff handled 512 bear complaints throughout the corridor, roughly 300 of them here in Whistler. In 1993, there were 265 complaints and in 1992, 81. So far, Elliot is right on track. Four hundred and thirty one more calls last year than two years ago. "We had a bear peak in 1978, 1987, and hopefully, last summer. These peaks were about eight years apart but I think that was a coincidence. "We took 38 bears out of Whistler last year, relocating 16, shooting 22. Twelve were choppered out, west over to Jervis Inlet and some to Lizzie Lake. In comparison we relocated five in 1993 and none in 1992." Last summer our conservation officers only dealt with a couple of sows with cubs, he said. "They stayed up in the mountains away from humans. Ninety-seven per cent of the trouble makers were the two or three year olds who had left their mothers and were not yet afraid of humans." (Cubs stay with their mothers for one year, until they are kicked out when the next batch is born). "This year I expect the bears to be better even though we have an artificially high bear population," he said. The electric fence at the dump will move the large males out. And the garbage proof bins and two live Whistler Spirit traps should help, he added. "We've never had a bear attack in Whistler," Elliot stresses. "But if that should occur, our policy is to shoot only that bear." Sure, sure. Nothing like panic to rewrite a policy. Shoot and shred will be rule No. 1. "Last summer we shot a 450 pound male down on Beaver Lane and it took six big guys to winch him up onto a truck," he said. "And not one of the many bystanders complained about what we were doing." Well, all of Whistler eventually complained. Loudly and long. No more bears were shot. By summer's end all troublesome bears were choppered out. (Only conservation officers can tranquilize bears — not RCMP or bylaw officers). Also, one of the worst problems last summer was when a bear entered a kitchen window in Whistler Cay Heights and the owner trapped him inside, Elliot said. But, as we all know, black bears are predatory, wild and completely unpredictable. This is only this writer's opinion, but I believe we are setting ourselves up for a tragic bear attack. But after spending many, many summers watching bears in their natural habitat, my back yard, and having ended last fall with one attempting at midnight to break down a neighbour's front door, this is one time I don't want to be right. No one in Whistler wants to make that dreaded call to the RCMP, "Bear attacking my daughter." Repeat. "Bear just slashed my three year old". "Oh my God, hurry." "Please."


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