By Michael Allen
In the light of the crescent moon a massive male black bear lifts his head to the approach of the female. Beneath the shadows of this midnight moon her slight silhouette vanishes within the 500 lb form of the male. Head on, both fall into the tandem tearing of stringy but succulent clover leaflets from the stronghold of the ski trail. On the third night of their 4-5 day courtship, the dominant male and female find solitude and comfort in the blackness of a colder summer night. Their brief union represents the only social companionship for opposite sexes in the entire year. It is one of the most intriguing behaviors I witness from the thousands of hours of bear observations over the last 14 years.
As I sit some 20 metres from the bears (they moved closer to me from 100 metres), I ponder aloud (so the bears know and recognize me) as to how I ended up here in Whistler, a place that now serves as the front-line of daily effort to teach thousands of people each year about the different lives of 75 or so resident bears. People call me the “bear guy” because I think they honestly don’t know what I am, or what I do, in an official capacity — other than hang out with bears.
I am not a bear biologist or conservation officer, as many people have reasonably assumed. I also, for personal reasons, do not work with or for the Bear Smart program. I can provide lots of information on bears — seasonal behavior, identity, and abundance — but do not have any official status on bear management action, if you have a problem with bears.
The only official status I have with bears is as a bear-viewing guide for Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains during the last eight years.
When I was a kid, sure, I wanted to be a bear scientist and handle bears at winter dens; weigh cubs while examining mothers in detail; place radio collars on bears so that I could follow their annual movements — that was indeed my dream but I never got there, for many reasons.
In the 22 years of observation-based bear studies, I haven’t seen a bear tranquilized or even trapped. And unfortunately, I don’t play much of a role in Whistler bear management. I left the Whistler Bear Working Group because I felt like a minority on several issues and after a while you just lose the drive if everyone else is in a different gear, so to speak. Besides, I was the least educated person in the group.