Humans and black bears have been neighbours since the first fishing lodge opened in Whistler, so what does it mean to live in a community where the two dwell so closely side-by-side?
Everyone has great bear stories first off.
I remember my first sighting. Just returning from a Halloween party dressed up like a fortuneteller, I was walking home and heard a grunt. Not more than a stone’s throw away, a large bear ate from a garbage bag outside of a Nordic home. He/she looked at me and I turned and ran to the neighbouring house. My first thought should have been to call the conservation office bear line, but instead I fretted over the possibility of the following day’s newspaper headline reading "Fortune teller couldn’t predict bear attack". A new Whistler resident three years ago, I just didn’t know any better.
If I had known better, I would have phoned the conservation office hotline to report the homeowner who would have been fined for mismanaging attractants.
If I had grown up in the Whistler education system where bear education is part of the school curriculum, I would have backed away slowly from the bear making as much noise as I could.
If I had educated myself on what it means to live in black bear habitat, I would have known bear attacks in the area are rare to non-existent. (Over the past 13 years of studying bears in Whistler, Michael Allen knows of only one bear attack incident that occurred in Pemberton.)
If I had lived a little longer in Whistler, I would also have known the problem was not with the bears, but with the relationship between humans and bears — a relationship that leads to the destruction of bears with very few repercussions for humans.
If everyone knew leaving a door open on one of our compactor site’s garbage bins would lead to the possible destruction of bear, might different decisions be made?
What exactly does it take for humans to literally clean up their act?
Hitting people in their pocket books is one way.
Zero tolerance with fines
The first black bear of the year was destroyed last week after a sub-adult bear broke into a series of homes in the Alpine neighbourhood. Two of the homes were occupied by residents, including the one where the bear was destroyed June 7. RCMP officers and the Conservation Office Service destroyed the bear out of concern for public safety.
"We believe the bear was responsible for other break-ins in Nicklaus North as well," said Rob Groeger, Whistler bear conservation officer. "We can link everything back to food of some sort. (We) were able to get within 10 feet of the bear. It had lost all fear of people completely."