Whistler bear deaths a provincial anomaly 

Two studies due to shed light on the human-bear relations

PULL QUOTE

"I’ve seen a progressive change in sub-adult bear behaviour."

–Michael Allen, Black Bear Project

So far this year, Whistler’s bear death toll stands at seven. With months to go before hibernation, that number could very well increase. Last year only one bear was destroyed.

More than 950 black bears are destroyed in B.C. annually. In the first six months of this year, conservation and RCMP officers destroyed a total of 164 "problem bears" in the province, according to Tiffany Akins, a public affairs officer with the Ministry of Land and Water Protection.

While this number represents a slight decrease from 2003 when 181 bears were destroyed across the province over the same period, it also suggests Whistler’s bear death toll could climb much higher before hibernation season.

Dan Dwyer, a senior conservation officer, ascertains that there is no pattern regarding the time of year when bears are most frequently destroyed.

"Our numbers show that it’s all over the map. There is no consistency because there are so many factors (bringing bears in contact with people) including food source, drought and fish runs," explains Dwyer.

For example, a prolific berry crop might attract bears, while a significant fish run would keep them by the rivers and away from residential areas.

The conservation officer sites first quarter figures (encompassing April, May and June) that show wildlife complaints for the South Coast region are up less that 1 per cent over last year.

By comparison, the Whistler Bear Society, The Black Bear Project and Squamish-based conservation officer Charlie Doyle have all experienced dramatic increases in the number of bear complaints each of their organizations have received. The conservation office has received more than 400 bear-related calls this year, up more than 25 per cent over last year. The Black Bear Project has received more than 700 calls.

Do these numbers reflect a specific problem of habituated bears, a population explosion or is there an environmental factor bringing the animals more frequently in contact with people?

"It’s too early to speculate," states Dwyer.

Dwyer describes the province’s black bear population as stable and quantifies it at 130,000.

Of the bears destroyed in Whistler this year: four bears were shot as a result of human/bear conflict; another two were victims of motor vehicle accidents (an addition two animals sustained unknown injuries as thy escaped into the forest after being hit); and a seventh bear, suffering from gunshot wounds, was destroyed for humane reasons.

Additionally there have been 11 bear relocations.

"Some of those relocations have been the same bear, and some of those have been later destroyed," says Sylvia Dolson, executive director of Whistler Bear Society.

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