Since the non-lethal bear management strategy was introduced in Whistler in 1999, the number of animals destroyed in the resort has fallen from an annual average of 20 to six or less.
"The destruction of bears has been reduced by 85 per cent in this town," says Sylvia Dolson of the JJ Whistler Bear Society. "That could mean 850 bears could be saved in B.C. alone."
Dolson wants to see the non-lethal methods of bear management move out of the experimental realm and into operational practice throughout North America. Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, New Jersey and Maryland have all expressed interest in the Whistler program. But getting outside agencies to get on board is going to take more than enthusiasm and a commitment to "People and Bears Living in Harmony" the nine-year-old organizations motto.
To persuade agencies like the RCMP and the Conservation Officer Services research must be in place to substantiate anecdotal claims that non-lethal methods of bear management, such as aversion conditioning, work.
Along with seven others including JJ Whistler Bear Society and The Whistler Black Bear Project, RCMP and COS are involved in The Whistler Black Bear Working Group. This umbrella group has outlined a study that would take between three and five years to complete. Once finished it would provide a blueprint for other communities to implement non-lethal bear management practices.
Thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection the first phase of the project is underway. The working groups initial core research includes a bear tolerance survey which will be ready for publication within the month.
However, Dolson sees the collection of all relevant data to be a three- to five-year undertaking at a cost between $225,000 and $375,000. In addition to government grants, the working group is looking into various forms of non-governmental funding. So far those efforts have not paid off. And the lack of funds is quickly equating to lost opportunities.
"The National Geographic is prepared to put a critter cam on a radio-collared bear in the fall. That would be amazing, we would see everything from the bears point of view. Unfortunately, were not ready yet," Dolson states.
The ministry is reluctant to tranquilize and place radio collars on the animals until the bulk of the studys funding is in place. Its a bit of a catch-22, since the information collected by tracking and monitoring the bears could possibly open up other funding avenues.
Despite financial frustrations, Dolson remains optimistic about the research project, as does fellow committee member Doyle. The conservation officer sees Whistler as the ideal place to conduct this type of groundbreaking study.
"Theres a lot of bear tolerance in Whistler. People really care about bears. And there are a lot of bears and a lot of conflict. This is a great place for the study."
To report bear-related incidents, call 604-905-BEAR (2327) or the Conservation Officer Service at 1-800-663-9453. For more information preventing human-bear conflict visit www.bearsmart.com