Bears beware: Intrawest is coming The Peaks and Spring Creek will invade black bear areas By Chris Woodall No one asked Whistler's black bears. Intrawest's plans for Creekside have met with a generally positive human response, but the resort company admits it didn't "ask" affected black bear populations how they'll respond. The two projects that will crash into forests populated by local black bears are The Peaks — above Gondola Way on Whistler Mountain — and Spring Creek, south of Bayshores. "The Peaks location is a denning area and a major black bear corridor," says Michael Allen. Allen is a black bear researcher who has been tracking the lives and loves of Whistler's black bears for several years. Allen writes a bi-weekly Pique Newsmagazine column on black bear activity. The Spring Creek neighbourhood project is on forested land that bears use to scoot across Highway 99 to dine on Western skunk cabbage in the swamp lands to the west, Allen says. "Intrawest has to realize there's a lot of bear activity there," Allen says of the two areas, but especially the old growth forest that sits on a knoll just west of The Peaks project. Intrawest will preserve the old growth in its natural state. "It's good they're leaving it, but human disturbance nearby means there will probably be less bear use of any area," Allen says. "It's something that didn't cross our minds," Intrawest director of resort development Neil Rodgers says, about looking into the effects of its projects on black bears. Intrawest did hire Envirowest Consultants Ltd. of Vancouver to look at over-all wildlife habitats in the areas affected. But that doesn't mean Whistler's black bears will be ignored outright. "By no means do I claim to have exhausted every issue," Rodgers says. "I'd like to speak to Mike (Allen) to find out his opinions on that issue. If it's a serious issue or one that needs to be addressed, we'll include it in our plans," Rodgers says. He fully expects there are other issues Intrawest didn't consider, but should, and will. Intrawest's public open houses are avenues to have any issue brought forward that people think should be examined, Rodgers says. The open houses are Tuesday, April 21 (6:30-9:30 p.m.), and Saturday, April 25 (11 a.m. -3:30 p.m.), at Our Lady of the Mountains community hall at the west end of Lorimer Road. Whistler's growth has taken up a lot of black bear habitat in the valley bottom over the years, Allen observes. Building up the sides of the mountains may intrude too far into black bear country. Whereas the rest of the developed valley bottom is no longer black bear habitat, the bears' world starts about the 800 metre level along mountain slopes, Allen says. "We need to preserve as much of the lower slope mountain habitat (as possible) to sustain black bears' natural food sources," Allen says. The Creekside area attracts about 20 bears of all sizes. From May to June the bears are "pretty mobile," Allen says. There is at least one resident mother and cubs in the proposed Peaks site. The Peaks area straddles a travel corridor that funnels bears along the North-West Passage (near the Dave Murray Downhill timing flats) on Whistler Mountain around to the Millar Creek swamplands and beyond to the Cheakamus River and the garbage dump. While evicting black bears may be inevitable as Intrawest's residential developments take hold, Allen's biggest concern is that human/bear conflicts will increase unless bear proofing of potential "attractants," such as garbage waste, are put in place right when the first shovel bites into dirt. "The key point to recognize is that as soon as somebody steps a foot in there and brings food in, the construction site become just another area in Whistler with a potential for bear conflicts," Allen says. Construction sites anywhere should introduce bear-proof garbage bins as a first task. "The Spring Creek development would introduce the potential for huge conflicts, especially with children," Allen says of the proposed elementary school site, although it's not as sensitive an area as The Peaks lands. "Bears cross the highway there," Allen says of the proposed school site on the east side of Highway 99 where a power line beelines up the slope. "The school will need to develop a buffer to keep bears away," Allen says, which means maintaining open areas free of trees or brush that bears will hide in or use to edge closer to human food. But because the Spring Creek site doesn't have human food sources there now, starting smart by bear proofing the development from day one will mean black bears won't get used to the idea it is a wildlife fast food joint.