Task force to tackle bear hazards Bears shot rather than relocated because of high cost, low effectiveness By Chris Woodall A task force of municipal, corporate and environmental groups has been formed to develop a management plan to protect bears from people, and people from bears. There's a need to bear-proof the community so Whistler doesn't have a rising negative impact in its relationship with its black bear population, says Whistler Mayor Hugh O'Reilly. The task force includes representation from the Jennifer Jones Foundation, Whistler/Blackcomb, AWARE (Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment), the Resort Municipality of Whistler, conservation officers and Carney’s Waste Systems. "The first thing is to put the plan in place to identify where our resources are and what we can do with the money available," O'Reilly says. "Just the fact that we brought the right people together will help." Municipal engineer Brian Barnett says the new group is a more formal organization of the same people who have been working on the bear issue. The task force’s goals and specific mandate will be fully defined at a Nov. 7 meeting, he says. "Our objective is to properly manage bear problems in Whistler, rather than piecemeal efforts," Barnett says. "We’ll be escalating our efforts, and more focused. There’s a strong desire from all individuals to work on this problem." Bear researcher Mike Allen is understandably keen to see some concrete action taken. He studies the habits and movements of Whistler's black bears at very close hand and is concerned at the waste of bear lives. "I've made the municipality aware of the need for bear-proof containers," Allen says of a meeting leading up to formation of the task force. Allen won't be on the task force, but will be available as scientific adviser. "I feel my skills would be better used in the field." The task force doesn't need a lot of meetings to develop a plan, but to move now to get proper garbage bins and put them in place in the Village, Allen says. The electrical fencing at the landfill also needs to be backed up by bear-proof bins in Function Junction, or the bears will simply cross the highway to get what they can't get at the dump, Allen says. The first priority should be to bear-proof areas of Whistler where bears will mingle with large numbers of people, Allen says. This means the village retail areas rather than outlying residential areas. "Bear families won't go into the village, but adult males and sub-adults will because they tolerate people more than other bears," Allen says. But if a lot of people are present, a bear may not see an easy escape and could lash out instead. "When a bear comes into the village, people surround it wanting to take a photo," Allen says. "In order to bear proof properly, you have to look at the risk involved to people and have to prioritize it that way," Allen says. "Food is available everywhere. A bear mauling could occur anywhere, but you have to pick where it's most likely, such as by sidewalk garbage containers that should be replaced by bear proof containers like the ones at Lost Lake Park, Spruce Grove and Meadow Park," Allen says. The recent bear mauling at Liard Hot Springs in northern B.C. involved a 200-pound bear. It was still powerful enough to crush one person's chest when it jumped on the victim. "We've got 500-600-pound bears around here," Allen says, to give an idea of the massive strength of the animal. "A bear isn't likely to attack in a neighbourhood where there may be only one person nearby. Which introduces an important point. Don't panic and call the police if you see a bear in the area. Give it a chance to get away if it isn't obviously causing a problem, Allen says. "Whistler has to learn to tolerate its bears," Allen says. "Simply calling in to say you see a bear isn't the answer. A bear grazing on berries beside the Valley Trail is fine. "You shouldn't panic and phone it in," Allen says. Otherwise the bear will be shot, not transported out, if it gets caught. Bear relocations just aren't done as much as they once were, Allen says, producing statistics to prove it. Although 65 Whistler bears were relocated from 1990 to 1996 (an average 8.62 a year), only four bears (one adult, and a sow and her two cubs) have been relocated this year. The rest (13) were shot. "People are assuming bears will be relocated when they call in a bear alarm," Allen says. Government budget cuts have meant there’s no money to move bears out of town. "Of 163 bears removed from Whistler since 1990, 58 per cent have been destroyed," Allen says. "The 163 bears is like wiping out an entire population of bears in some American states."