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Whistler bears begin to emerge

Garbage, bird feeders, compost bins and other attractants need to be secured

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Time to take stock of your attractants — Whistler's bears are waking up.

Garbage, compost, bird feeders, barbecue grease — anything that's likely to bring a hungry bear to your front door needs to be safely secured out of sight and scent.

"One thing I think people need to be very cognizant of is that bears sort of have to relearn every year to become accustomed to people and the food that people supply to them," said Sylvia Dolson, executive director of Whistler's Get Bear Smart Society.

"They come out of the den a little bit shier than they went in, and so they kind of have to relearn all that... the more we reward bears with garbage and bird feed and compost and all those things, the more likely they are to get into trouble through the season."

Another big one is beer or pop cans left on decks and patios, Dolson said.

"Just that smell of the beer or the pop or whatever was in the can or bottle is enough to bring in a bear, and usually it's on the back porch, so immediately you've trained the bear to come to your back door," she said.

"This is the one time of the year where we have the opportunity to set them back on the straight and narrow, right? So it's a really critical time of year in that respect."

Mike Badry, Wildlife Conflict Manager with the provincial Ministry of Environment, said calls about bears are starting to come in to the Conservation Officer Service.

"Bears are becoming active and they're going to be hungry, right? They're coming out of their dens and they're going to be needing to put on some weight, and the first thing they're going to be doing is looking for food," Badry said.

The No. 1 attractant at this time of year is most often garbage, he said, but winter bird feeders and compost bins are an enticing draw as well.

"If you've been keeping your compost bin going all winter long, make sure that it's properly maintained," Badry said.

"You may even have to think about erecting things like electric fences around some things that are high-value attractants like (compost) or small livestock and things like that."

If you encounter a bear while out and about in Whistler, don't try to approach it for the sake of a good picture, Badry added.

"You don't want to further that habituation of that bear, (making it) more and more comfortable around people," he said.

"You want to make sure you can keep your distance, and if that bear continues to approach, you just want to make sure you look a little bit big, and you back away slowly. You don't want to be aggressive towards the bear, you just kind of want to move out of that area."

If the bear is intent on moving towards you, "then you may want to start making noise and raising your arms, making yourself look big, making yourself look like you're aggressive," Badry said, adding that it's always a good idea to carry bear spray, travel in groups and make lots of noise when you're in bear country.

If a bear does find its way into your yard, you should get out the pots and pans and scare it away, Dolson said.

"Make sure that the bear has a safe escape route is No. 1, and then make sure that you have a place to retreat to," she said.

"And the bear needs to see you — it can't just be noise, because that really means nothing to the bear. You need to be yelling while you're banging the pots and pans so that they know it's a human... and eye contact is really important. The bear needs to see that you're looking at them."

For more info on Whistler's bears head to www.bearsmart.com.

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