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Nervous Mammoth bears moved by aversion Bear Foundation investigates alternative methods of control Every time a bear in Whistler is shot there are emotional repercussions throughout the valley. The Jennifer Jones Whistler Bear Foundation has been investigating alternative methods of bear control beyond relocation and destruction. The JJWBF is making an effort to solve the problem of Whistler’s local bears becoming habituated to garbage as a food source and suffering as a result. Foundation member Sylvia Dolson has just returned from a fact-finding trip to Mammoth Lakes, CA to learn more about their non-lethal aversion conditioning. "Whistler’s bear problems are not unique," says a JJWBF release. "Communities all over North America are struggling to cope with bear populations that are becoming conditioned to garbage and habituated to people. If Whistler doesn’t want to kill its bears there are alternatives. "In Mammoth Lakes over 150 calls were handled in the 1997/98 season and zero bears were destroyed. All situations were dealt with by non-lethal means. Pepper spray, rubber bullets and pyrotechnics are among the arsenal of deterrents available." There are similarities between the two towns of Mammoth Lakes and Whistler. Both are four season ski resorts located in a wilderness area. Like Whistler, Mammoth has a permanent population of less than 10,000 and over a million visitors a year. It is reported that about 30 bears live within Mammoth’s six square mile boundary. Without garbage this area would only sustain three bears. Among the wildlife management techniques the staff in Mammoth employ is a trash can called Bear-Be-Gone. It smells like garbage but releases pepper spray when it is activated. They also use paint pellets for the purpose of marking garbage bears, and Screamers and Bombers — audio pyrotechnic devices. The Mammoth Lakes police department hired Steve Searles as a wildlife management consultant. Known locally as the Mammoth Bear Man, Searles says that the aversion therapy is backing up nature’s own systems. "Our goal is to reintroduce the bears’ natural fear of humans through non-lethal means," he says. "I like to think the way bears think. Use the logic a bear uses. I work with the bears in a way they can understand. If we pepper spray or rubber bullet a bear, that’s something they can respect. We’re taking our natural spot at the top of the food chain or pecking order. "Rubber bullets won’t split skin, do any damage or hurt a bear. He’s got five inches of fat under his skin. You’re just going to give him a bear sized wallop and what he deserves if he’s in a bad situation. You want to give that bear as much grief and discomfort as possible without killing him. It’s like a spanking. He’s a bad bear and he deserves a little punishment." The theory is that when bears associate human contact with pain and discomfort they will naturally be weaned off their high-calorie garbage diet. This in turn will cause their reproductivity to subside. Eventually this will be reflected in a population decrease. Although the State of California Fish and Game issues permits to kill bears, at one time Searles’ techniques were considered animal harassment and were an offence. The town of Mammoth Lakes had to gain special permission to use these non-lethal aversion conditioning techniques.