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bears on mtns

Green bears for Whistler/Blackcomb A resort's only as good as the company it keeps — DeJong By Chris Woodall When it comes to good fences making good neighbours, Whistler/Blackcomb finds that keeping good glade runs make for good black bear populations. And in turn, a thriving black bear population is a sign that North America's best ski resort is earning that title for more than the longest ski runs in the Western Hemisphere, says Arthur DeJong, Whistler/Blackcomb's mountain planning and environmental resource manager. "After visiting other ski resorts, I really believe it's a cornerstone to being the best," DeJong says of developing a ski resort with sustaining wildlife in mind. Others think so, too. Whistler/Blackcomb recently earned one of four "Silver Eagle" awards from an American-based panel of environmentalists and ski journalists for W/B's environmental education efforts. "Our ability to co-exist with black bears is a good test in how we will, or will not, succeed with sustaining nature at our resort," DeJong says. That's partly where the glade runs come in. The immense popularity of snowboarding means more people are on slope toys that give them easier access to treed areas, hence a greater demand for glade runs "than even five years ago," DeJong says. That's good news for black bears. Thinning the forest to create glade runs without disturbing undergrowth means more sunlight to the forest floor where huckleberry bushes — a favourite food source for black bears — then thrive in the more open spaces. More glades = more food sources = more healthy bears. "As we develop the mountains, we look for win-win situations between recreation versus habitat," DeJong says. Another food source is the spring grass growing on regular ski runs. "Providing a balance (of food sources) between grass and huckleberries helps sustain a healthy number of black bears on the two mountains," DeJong says. The number of black bears on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains can't be pegged because of transient travelling, but DeJong guesses there are a dozen families on both sets of slopes. "The mothers and cubs like the ski slopes," says DeJong. The open space helps the mother keep an eye on her children while being in a grocery store of grass fodder. And, too, people can see — and stay away from — the bears. Summer visitors to Blackcomb — Whistler Mountain is closed for the summer while the new Roundhouse Lodge is built — will have enhanced signs and displays on the ride up and at Rendezvous to tell the story of the black bear: what they do, where they den and how to avoid bugging them. "We'll have an old den in the Rendezvous and a tree clawed up by black bears as part of our interpretive displays," DeJong explains. Chairlift towers are posted with art by local painter Isobel MacLaurin illustrating aspects of mountain habitat passing by below, including where bears are usually seen grazing. On a more mechanical side, the ski mountains are bear-proofing all their garbage containers this year. Slope development, guest information and proper garbage cans are all part of an integrated management plan for the mountains that caters not just to the black bear presence, but to the mountains as environment. "We have to consider all the values of the mountains: not just as a recreation area, but in terms of soil retention, forest health, our water systems and black bear habitat," DeJong says.

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