A few years ago the big story in Whistler was the verification that there were still grizzly bears in the Callaghan Valley, which was closer than previously thought.
Now there's been a sighting of a grizzly a lot closer to home, after a jogger came face to face with one in Whistler's Interpretive Forest area at roughly 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 13.
"It was a collared grizzly bear that was seen on a trail in the Cheakamus Crossing area," said conservation officer Chris Doyle. "We had an officer speak to the witness and it sounds like a credible report. We do have some grizzlies in Sea to Sky that have been collared as part of a study of the grizzly bear population in the area, so this is likely one of those bears."
Doyle suspects that the bear likely came to Whistler from the Callaghan or the Rutherford/Ryan River area near Pemberton. "They do roam around quite a bit," he said.
As for why it would be in Whistler at this time, Doyle said the large male bear was either passing through, on a search for food or looking for a winter denning location.
"It may have been returning from an area where it had been feeding on salmon or something, and was just passing through," he said. "It doesn't appear that it stayed in the area and there have been no other calls."
Doyle said that people should take the same precautions as they would with black bears by controlling attractants like garbage and food around their homes. If the grizzly finds garbage and becomes conditioned to human foods it may have to be destroyed.
"We're talking about an animal that is significantly less abundant than black bears and we don't want to lose any because they've become conditioned to human foods, so be extra vigilant about containing bear attractants," said Doyle.
Doyle also warned people not to approach a grizzly under any circumstances.
"Some people in Whistler may feel comfortable approaching or walking near a black bear, but I wouldn't advise the same for this grizzly," he said.
The jogger and the bear ran in opposite directions after the encounter with no further incident.
Meanwhile the B.C. Conservation Officer Service is continuing to respond to black bear calls around Whistler. In one case a tagged bear in the Whistler Cay area broke into a few residences to obtain food. The conservation officers set up a trap in the area, but ended up releasing an untagged bear that found its way in.
As well, several barbecues in the White Gold area have been knocked over recently.
"We do have officers in the area responding to bear conflicts and hazing bears where appropriate, and we're hoping that the conflict season will end shortly with winter approaching," said Doyle.
Province to amend wildlife act
The province introduced a new amendment to the Wildlife Act on Monday, Nov. 14 that, if passed, could result in fines of $230 for "the mismanagement of attractants (such as food, compost and garbage waste) that could invite dangerous wildlife, such as grizzly and black bears, cougars, coyotes and wolves." The change was part of an omnibus bill by the Attorney General and is not yet law.
For Sylvia Dolson of the Get Bear Smart Society, it will be a welcome change if it's passed.
"Conservation Officers definitely need more enforcement officers," said Dolson, adding that she's pleased that offenders can now instantly receive a fine.
"(Currently) officers have to issue a Dangerous Wildlife Protection Order first, giving the offender an opportunity to comply with their request to clean up attractants.
"While it sounds good on the surface, the legislation has flaws. If, for example, a restaurant had an accessible grease bin outside on their loading bay, COs could order them to make the grease inaccessible to bears. As soon as they complied the order was null and void and no fine could be levied for their non-compliance. They could then again become accessible to bears on the next day, and COs would have to issue a new order. The Act had no teeth."
Dolson said the fines would only affect a handful of individuals and businesses that don't comply with laws, which she said were there for our safety as much as the safety of the bears.
"Most people willingly comply once they are aware of the problem," she said. "Those few who don't, however, cause 95 per cent of the conflicts."
Conservation Officer Service checking hunters, anglers
Hunting and fishing seasons are very much underway in the region, and the B.C. Conservation Officer Service has been busy enforcing laws and regulations governing both activities. Some examples include charges against a male in the Pemberton area who was driving with a loaded firearm in his vehicle. In the Squamish area, two men were charged for exceeding the catch limit for fish and for having too many rods in the water.