Whistler Black Bear Project
From 2000-2004, the ski area bear viewing program has positively identified and recorded 2,400 locations of over 60 individual known black bears on Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.
And equally important, over 2,600 people have been educated directly on bear behavior and ecology. Non-evasive bear viewing continues to monitor population dynamics and provide "hands-on" field education opportunities to residents and visitors of Whistler.
Home to two large mountainous environments, ski area bears teeter along the edge of wilderness and front-country. Bears have the best of both worlds Ñ connectivity from wild, undisturbed habitats of Garibaldi Provincial Park to the enhanced food concentration along Whistler-BlackcombÕs ski trails.
Ski trail development benefits bear foraging on easily digested green-up during spring, to required protein intake of black carpenter ants from rotten logs and tree stumps in summer, to the dense berry-producing shrub-dominated habitats in fall.
In 2000, Whistler Blackcomb environment planner Arthur DeJong and I initiated the ski area bear and wildlife viewing program.
Starting out with one vehicle and daily, low-impact seasonal tours, the program has gone from 200 people per year to over 900 people. Our goal is simple Ñ to create an urgency about bears Ñ that people want to watch and learn about, and leave our tours with a better understanding of "real-time" bear behavior.
We are in fact just another vehicle along the ski areaÕs summer access road travelling amongst vehicles used by lift maintenance, snow-making, the Bike Park, and other mountain staff that work to maintain the healthy operation of the ski area. We are non-evasive. That is our mandate. The bears always come first.
In the front-country of Whistler, bears have learned to tolerate people and related activities. Habituation should not imply dangerous bear behavior but an adaptation to utilizing clumped food sources in front-country environs. Bears experience trains, vehicles, industrial equipment, hummers, ATVÕs, dirt bikes, mountain bikes, joggers, hikers, dogs, and music daily. Arterial noise of human origin from the resort makes bears used to people/areas directly and indirectly every single day.
Our job is to be aware, understand, tolerate, and keep the dangerous attractants contained that will lure bears into dangerous situations.
On this cool and sunny morning bear excursion with six clients originating from Utah, Minnesota, Texas, and Vancouver we begin our ascent of Blackcomb Mountain. As we pass the trees cut down around Base II for the development of the Olympic Sliding Centre people ask the obvious question Ñ how does development in Whistler impact the bears? This question provides an opportunity for me to set the stage for the tour.