By Alison Taylor
A government study has conclusively proved that four grizzly bears are living roughly five kilometres away from Whistler’s Olympic Nordic venue.
The evidence of grizzly bears, and possibly their cubs, in the area has raised concern among some community members about what is proposed in the Callaghan Valley as an Olympic legacy. Part of the proposal includes a network of roughly 25 kilometres of recreational trails in grizzly bear country.
Councillor Eckhard Zeidler, who raised the issue during VANOC’s presentation of its sustainability plan to council Monday afternoon, is “deeply concerned” about the impact of future development in the area.
“Now that we have that information (on the grizzlies) we have to take that into account and we have to make a decision collectively as to whether we want to make further incursions into this wild area having that knowledge, because we can’t ignore it,” said Zeidler.
Development could push the grizzlies out of the area and it could also increase the risk of a conflict with humans.
“The first and foremost concern is displacement from preferred
habitat,” said provincial bear biologist Tony Hamilton, speaking in general
terms. “So if a facility of any kind, a campground or a trail network, is
located in backcountry occupied grizzly bear habitat in British Columbia
anywhere, we’re concerned about displacement from preferred habitat and its
converse, human safety.”
There are ways, he added, to mitigate the impacts to grizzlies,
such as seasonal trail closures and educating the public who are recreating
“There are plenty of examples of exactly that kind of thing elsewhere in British Columbia,” said Hamilton.
The provincial ministry of the environment raised the issue of grizzlies in the Callaghan in December 2004.
At that time the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games was in the process of an Environmental Assessment for the Whistler Nordic Centre, approval of which was necessary before beginning construction on the venue.
The approval came in April 2005 but it only allowed for the construction of the venue on 260 hectares in the lower part of the Callaghan. There has been no evidence of grizzly bears living in this area.
The future legacy uses for the Callaghan were to be considered under a separate application.
In the first EA report VANOC recognized there were grizzlies in the Callaghan and committed to work on a bear management plan within the competition area as well as ensure that public education, such as literature, was provided at the trailheads.