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Traditional bear viewing in North America has always been at salmon-spawning streams or tidal pools/estuaries where there is little interaction with the human environment. The unique premise for ski area bear viewing is that people observe "real-time" bear activity in a dynamic environment.
I have been here observing and living a bearÕs life for the past 12 years and what better way to show people how Whistler lives successfully with black bears.
People see all sides of the bearÕs world Ñ hurdles they must overcome, the rewards of adaptability, and the unique personalities each bear has adopted living near Whistler.
We round the last switch-back before the climb to mid-station (1,250-metres elevation), to find a beautiful sight of two black bears grazing on a glistening green slope with a large snow-patch backdrop.
This has always been the greatest sight for me all these years, and the one that really does showcase spring in Whistler.
We immediately pull to the side of the road. First things first Ñ bear identification. At 300 metres, powerful 10x40 binoculars reveal two adult females, both known bears. I am able now, after 12 years of intensive research, to consistently identify all known (previously identified) bears in Whistler.
After identification, the activity, location and elevation are recorded for future reference.
Clients hunch forward in their seats with anticipation. We drive another 100 metres closer and shut down. Everyone quietly gets out of the vehicle.
The morning is bright and crisp. The air is as it has always has been in the mountains of Whistler Ñ the best.
The bears continue to graze glancing occasionally at this small huddle of human interest. The larger female is Marisa, the first female identified on Blackcomb in 1995 and the smaller female is a young adult. They graze together within three metres of one another; then engage in recognition and a tussle.
This is a rare occasion in bear viewing Ñ to see a mother and past daughter interact. I think I am more excited than any in the group of smiling clients. The bears break apart and continue grazing while I run through explanations of female behavior and biology.
ItÕs like a textbook come to life. The group becomes quiet as the bears slowly graze within 80-metres of us. No one moves from this tight huddle as I continue to speak, describing the situation. The moment is perfect for explanations of bear avoidance, body language, and encounter safety.
Marisa is limping, favoring her front right leg and paw. The group voices concern, asking the inevitable Ñ canÕt you help her? I answer no, it is her life not ours. ThatÕs something people must strive to understand about wild, healthy bear populations.