The death of a bear cub during Subaru Ironman Canada on Sunday, July 24, has the head of Whistler's Get Bear Smart Society questioning if more can be done to keep wildlife safe at next year's race.
The Conservation Officer Service (COS) was called to Alpine at 7:45 p.m. near the Whistler Secondary School, where a sow, accompanied by two cubs, had reportedly bluff-charged a race participant. Conservation officers managed to scare the animals up a tree, where they were tranquilized and eventually removed.
"When I put the cub in the trap with the sow, it was quite a long period of time, and so the sow was starting to wake up," said Conservation Officer Tim Schumacher. The mother bear started to regain mobility, and after "a couple of minutes," officers noticed one of the cubs trapped underneath the sow. "By the time we were able to get her off, the cub had died of suffocation."
Schumacher believes it was the first incident of its kind in Whistler, and said it would be reviewed "to see if we can find a solution to prevent it from happening again."
The two surviving bears have since been relocated.
Ironman organizers worked closely with the COS and other resort partners to devise a wildlife management strategy, and helped pay for three officers to work staggered shifts throughout the race, Schumacher said.
But Sylvia Dolson, head of the Bear Smart Society, said that some of the guidelines suggested in the planning stages were not in place on race day.
"(Bear Smart) and the Whistler Bear Advisory Committee put together some event guidelines that included bear- and waste-management protocols. The guidelines were not adopted," Dolson wrote in an email. "We will ask again that they be revisited by the RMOW (Resort Municipality of Whistler) as a result of this year's tragedy and an almost repeat of last year's incident."
A sow and three cubs were tranquilized and relocated during last year's triathlon after the mother bluff-charged a racer.
With Whistler's event calendar busier than ever, Dolson said in a follow-up interview that it's essential the right wildlife management protocols be put to use.
"These events are causing problems we haven't seen in the past and we need to learn how to deal with them," she said.
The Bear Smart director suggested Ironman take a page from the playbook of one of the Sea to Sky's other major events.
At this month's Pemberton Music Festival, organizers hired a bear shepherding team to be onsite with dogs throughout the four-day event to remove any bears that had wandered onto the grounds.
Dolson will also push for Ironman, which is heading into the final year of its five-year contract in Whistler, to be rescheduled to August in 2017.
"July is the time of the summer when all the bears are in the valley eating berries," she said. "When the berries start to ripen at elevation the bears move into the mountains and there aren't as many in the valley, especially moms and cubs."
For more information, visit bearsmart.com. To report a wildlife sighting in a populated area, call the COS RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277.