Aversion techniques not the answer for Whistler bears By Bob Barnett Aversion conditioning techniques on black bears are unlikely to work in the Whistler Valley and may end up being as expensive and unsuccessful as relocating bears, black bear researcher Michael Allen says. Aversion conditioning relies on non-lethal techniques for keeping bears out of man-made environments, including pepper spray, rubber bullets, rubber buck shot and noise devices. The program has been used successfully in Mammoth Lakes, California and is being studied by the Whistler Black Bear Task Team. Allen suggests the situation in Whistler is different than that in Mammoth. "At the landfill, for example, things that worked in other places haven’t worked here. Whistler bears are very determined and they’ve had 30-plus years of getting garbage here." But it’s consistency in application that makes aversion techniques effective, and in Whistler it would be impossible to deal with every bear every time it came in contact with humans, Allen says. "There are too many areas where bears can get garbage, even without people knowing about it," Allen says. "And there are too many bears. You’d need radio collars on all of the bears so you can be there ahead of them." Allen suggests aversion conditioning of bears is like training a dog: you have to be consistent with punishment for the animal to learn what behaviour is inappropriate. "You have to be there every time to discourage bears, not just once in a while," he says. "A rubber bullet might work for five minutes, but there’s no connection between the bullet and the garbage if the bear can go somewhere else and get garbage without being shot," Allen says. Besides, "Why spend money to get bears afraid of people now, after they’ve become habituated to humans?" Allen does concede that arming police officers with firearms that could fire rubber bullets would be useful in certain situations, "but it’s not a long-term solution." What is the long-term solution, according to Allen? "It’s the same old thing: better garbage management and teaching people about bears — it works." Allen sites as an example a two-year-old female bear he calls Hali which has been hanging around the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain the past few weeks. The small bear hasn’t posed a major problem, although she has startled a few construction workers when she’s snuck up behind them. Allen explained to the workers the importance of properly disposing of food and garbage and that the bear is probably just young and curious. Ironically, Allen will use pepper spray on the bear — an aversion technique — to try and convince the bear to move on. "Aversion works in isolated areas, where there’s just one thing the bear is interested in," Allen explains. Because there’s no other source of garbage or human food on the mountain right now the pepper spray should work. Meanwhile, Allen says bears will continue feeding for another few weeks before finding a den to hibernate for the winter. The warm summer, which prematurely dried up most of the berry crop, has made feeding difficult for many bears this fall. "There’s less food this fall so you’d expect they might stay out later this year, but the landfill’s still quiet," Allen says. There is also some fall growth on lower ski trails which provides a little nourishment for bears.