Black Bear Researcher
Rain hammers at the dark streets surrounding Blackcomb staff housing. Its warm unusually warm for mid-November. Fog cloaks the dim street lights. Few people are seen but voices echo everywhere. I sit in my truck with the drivers window down. Rainwater has soaked my elbow, half the steering wheel and is filling the inside door panel. People nod or say "hey" as they walk by to dump their garbage into the compactor. Its been dark since 5 p.m. The rain is steady.
I get out of the truck and check the two cylinders of bear spray. You cant really tell they are cans of bear spray because they are covered with a generous layer of peanut butter (crunchy). The peanut butter is courtesy of Andrew at staff housing. The two cans are wedged between two bars at the front of the compactor. The area is shadowed from the street light. I return to the truck still smelling the peanut butter.
Finally, 15 minutes go by without anyone dumping garbage at the compactor. At 6:45 p.m., as if on queue, a 105-kg adult female black bear appears from the bottom end of the compactor. Jeanie stands squarely with her head lowered to the wet asphalt. Her large black nose sways back and forth. Like a detective arriving at a crime scene, she interrogates the "food finds" of the evening. Odorous ground rebounds with footprints and spilt garbage contents of a world Whistler bears know too frequently.
Jeanie is an 11-year old (minimum age) resident female to Whistler Mountain. She is brown with a large flared white chest V and is accompanied by two, 11-month old cubs (born January 2002) which are not easily seen as she restricts them to secure tree cover. As Jeanie spends all spring through fall feeding and sleeping on Whistler Mountain, the base of Whistler-Blackcomb is her alternative food source when ski area berries are depleted during late fall.
I sit still, and out of sight switch the digital video recorder on. Jeanie takes a step, stops, and gives a robust shake propelling rainwater from her guard hairs. Immediately she checks the exact location of two blue plastic non-bear proof containers of recycling the easiest targets. Spilling these containers with one stroke of her forepaw reveals plastic jugs coated with the smells of curdling milk and sticky juice residues. She typically knocks over these containers, allowing easy pickings for her cubs. A feeding strategy no different than splitting open a rotten log and leaving the scattering carpenter ants for her eager cubs.
But the containers are no longer there, thanks to a phone call made to Allana Hamm, Whistler-Blackcombs environmental co-ordinator. Instead, Jeanie walks around the larger recycling igloos where various paper products are stored. She rears briefly thrusting her nose toward the openings but little is there to hold her interest and the small opening makes it difficult to paw at anything inside.