Playing the bear blame game 

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Warning: The following column contains Opinion, leavened with substantial attempts at humour, a subject about which there is little consensus. Any tangible suggestions contained herein, while potentially feasible, are largely circumstantial. Follow them at your own risk.

After some of the response to the past two weeks' columns, I'm considering making warnings a regular feature of this space. I have also come, reluctantly, to accept the notion there are some subjects from which I should simply stay away, far, far away. I am incorrigible, true; but I am also trainable.

Which brings me, once again, to bears, who are also incorrigible and trainable.

Summer 2014 has not been a good one for Whistler's local bears. Despite the non-stop action in the village, the festivals and animation, the ironpeople and cranks, the VSO and barbecue, there has been nothing but open season on bears. More bullets; fewer berries.

So what's the solution?

Well, I'll be the first to admit I don't know what it is or even if there is one. But what I'm hearing from the Get Bear Smart Society and conservation officers leaves me scratching my head just a bit.

For years the mantra has been to eliminate bear attractants from residential neighbourhoods. Garbage, cooling pies, outdoor refrigerators, berry bushes, bird feeders, anything bears might think of as easy eats were to be contained, torn out, relocated and avoided at all costs.

To that list of things we must not do there is now a push to train us to "report inappropriate bear behaviour as it occurs." Inappropriate bear behaviour seems to be any trespassing onto residential space by our neighbouring bruins. The new rules would have us running outside banging pots and pans whenever Yogi wanders through the 'hood. And if we're not comfortable doing that, call the COS.

Actually the COS wants us to call and report all bear sightings in residential areas. I wonder if they have any idea how busy their phone lines would be if we did that?

Let me take a moment to say I do not believe the COs are the bad guys here. I've known many of them over the years and they aren't trigger-happy bear killers. It's the least liked aspect of their job and I've yet to come across any who think otherwise.

That having been said, I'm getting a bit tired of taking the blame for what may or may not be inevitable. I don't think I've done anything to entice bears to the places I've lived in Whistler. No attractants, no wafting smells of bacon, no garbage. No garbage? Hell, I take the garbage to the compactor so often my wife once thought I must be having an affair with someone nearby!

But when I lived at Nita Lake there was, not infrequently, a bear eating mountain ash berries in a never-developed parcel of land abutting my carport. He ate; I watched. I opened my door in Alpine one day to find a very large bear standing on the other side. I closed the door and waited for it to move on. I sometimes see a bear on his or her early morning stroll along Ski Jump Rise in Rainbow.

Am I now really supposed to make a ruckus and call the CO every time this happens? I thought this was the essence of living harmoniously in bear country. I don't believe calling the CO is going to ipso facto result in those bears being killed but I'm also not naïve enough to believe, (a) the bears will wait around for the overworked CO to arrive and/or, (b) there are enough resources to relocate all the bears who wander through residential areas but who don't B&E the homes therein. I also don't believe banging pots and pans will do much other than help the bears develop a heightened sense of rhythm given the seemingly complete indifference most of the bears I've encountered in Whistler have towards humans.

This is not to say the situation is hopeless. We have failed to take adequate action against those performing Stupid People Tricks (SPT). Whether it's negligence — continuing to bait bears with garbage, etc. — or incredible feats of ignorance, a short list of which would include stopping in the middle of the freaking highway to take blurry, cellphone pictures of grazing bears, urging your child to get closer so you can take a blurry, cellphone bear-and-child picture, feeding the bears or insert your own SPT in this space.

We have chosen the kinder, gentler path. We attempt to teach and inform those people in the hope they might modify their own behaviour. Such an approach is, well, enlightened, I guess. But the drawback to enlightenment is the fact there is a never-ending supply of people willing to perform SPTs.

And therein lies the heart of the problem and, maybe, a partial solution.

The heart of the problem is people. We've done a reasonably good job of tackling people who call Whistler home. Reasonably good, not perfect. But we'll never achieve more than a low passing grade training people who we've invited here to have a good time, the tourists. A surprising number of them come to Whistler because they've heard they have a good chance of seeing a bear here. Others — and I think this is entirely understandable — simply lose their minds and good judgment at the first sight of a bear.

So it will always be. We simply cannot reprogram humans.

This leaves us with two choices. Pack up, dismantle and leave the town to the bears, who can undoubtedly prove valid historical title, or find a safer way to give the people what they want and kill fewer bears.

I included in my short-lived mayoral campaign the creation of Whistler's Bearly Tolerable tourist attraction. You remember. Instead of killing them we'd semi-domesticate them, dress 'em in colourful costumes, feed 'em all the garbage they crave, let tourist kiddies pet them and sit on their bearbacks for photos, hire 'em out to wrestle drunks and, of course, have the daily Running of the Bears through Whistler Village. Add to that, planting the lower slopes of the mountains with the berries they crave, having bear shepherds tending them while tourists oohed and aahed riding the lifts above them. Boffo.

I still think with seed money from the FE&A folks — and let's be honest, what would be more animated — we could make the Bear Corps a reality. If nothing else, the effort would bring us publicity far beyond the wettest dreams of Tourism Whistler.

Save the bears!


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