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As bears awaken, remove temptations

Conservation officer explains how to best protect Whistler's ursine residents

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Spring has sprung and like prisoners to deep winter sleep, Whistler's black bears have been sprung, too.

As the local bear population emerges from hibernation, Sgt. Simon Gravel of the Conservation Officer Service [COS] wanted to remind Sea to Sky residents and visitors of the importance of not leaving out trash or recycling containers to attract wildlife, bears in particular.

"People tend to forget about bears during the winter and maybe do things like put out birdfeeders or aren't as diligent with their garbage so now it is really time to get back into bear mode and be very diligent with attractants," said Gravel.

He also stressed the importance of reporting bear sightings in residential areas so that COS staff can keep track of wildlife and potential problems.

"We encourage people to report bear activity and want to refer them to our RAPP [Report All Poachers and Polluters] line. It is important for us to know when there is bear activity so we can schedule our response and pro-active inspections to keep track and make sure the bears are not getting into conflict situations."

Data is then passed along to WildSafeBC, a province-wide program operated by the B.C. Conservation Foundation that offers an online interactive map of recent wildlife sightings. In the past two weeks, there have also been cougar sightings in the Blueberry and Creekside neighbourhoods and a coyote spotted near Whistler Village, but so far no bears have been reported to the foundation.

Which doesn't mean at least one bear hasn't been widely seen.

Marie Strømme was returning from the village to her home on Crabapple Drive on Saturday afternoon when she encountered a black bear on the Valley Trail.

"I nearly walked straight into it," said Strømme, a Norwegian who arrived in Whistler last September. "I was just walking home from work. He looked very tired and just looked at me and looked away. He followed me for a while and then just wandered off onto the golf course."

However, rather than report the sighting to the RAPP line, she snapped a photo and posted it to the "Whistler Winter 2015/16" Facebook page, where it has since garnered dozens of shares and, judging by the comments, considerable unwanted attention for the bear from gawkers and other amateur photographers.

"I posted it really to warn people but then people started hunting it down and just wanting to come out and see it," said Strømme.

Gravel said he would rather people call 1-877-952-7277 than only report sightings on social media.

"It's impossible for us to monitor all of Facebook so the best thing to do if you see bear activity in a residential area is to call and report it," he said. "There are some things that are impossible to control but we don't want to put a gate all around Whistler to protect our visitors. Living with bears is part of the reality here and it comes with advantages but also comes with inconvenience."

Facebook is also being used to help avoid bear conflict through the "4theLoveofBears" ride-sharing page launched last fall by the Get Bear Smart Society to hook up car-less Whistler residents with volunteer drivers who can help them transport trash to sorting facilities at Nesters or Function Junction.

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