When I first moved to Whistler in late April, I was excited at the prospect of seeing a bear. Being a lifelong Vancouverite, my only encounters with wildlife came at around 2 a.m. when I had to shoo some mangy raccoons away from my parents’ front yard. None too exciting, you ought to be thinking.
But after three months as a Whistlerite, I think I’ve had my fill of the bears. I see them at least once a week on my way to work, and each time I see them I worry that they only have weeks to live. All it takes is the carelessness of one homeowner leaving their doors or windows open to basically invite that bear inside. Once it gets inside, it’s game over for that bear, because the B.C. Conservation Officer Service can’t take a chance on letting it get into another house.
If you read this week’s paper, it’s easy to see that the bear situation has gotten out of hand. Four bears were killed in a single week this month, bringing Whistler to a total of 11 kills this season — just two shy of beating last year’s total of 12 and it’s only August.
In three quarters of the cases, the story was generally the same: A black bear got into a house, ransacked the kitchen and ultimately had to be retired by a conservation officer. It’s policy. As Jacques Drisdelle of Bear Aware told me in another story, once a bear gets a taste for human food it’s like the first time a child gets a taste of junk food – from there on in, it’s near impossible to wean them off of it.
There’s an important fact that Whistlerites are failing to realize: we’re killing the bears, and we’re refusing to take simple steps to stop that.
Conservation officers have been asking the public for weeks to do three easy things: 1) store your garbage in a secure place; 2) lock your doors and windows (bears are like the raptors in Jurassic Park, they can get through unlocked doors); 3) report all encounters to the Conservation Officer Service, or at the very least the RCMP, who will forward the call to the necessary party.
I’ve been writing this for weeks, but I’ll write it again: doing all of these things could go a long way to stopping the rash of bear incidents that have been happening since they came out of hibernation. If we’re really vigilant, we could keep ourselves from beating last year’s statistics.
For its part, the Resort Municipality of Whistler has gone a long way towards preventing bear encounters. Environmental Stewardship Manager Heather Beresford told me this week that bylaw services have been getting tough on businesses in the Village to ensure they’re storing garbage properly. A near-lack of significant bear incidents in the Village this year is probably a good indication that those efforts are working – that, and the prospect of a $200 fine is a good incentive to store your trash in a safe place.
Maybe bylaw services ought to start concentrating their efforts on residential areas. That, or have the appropriate parties look for a way to charge people with criminal negligence for failing to take actions that could keep bears safe.
Section 219 of the Criminal Code says that anyone is criminally negligent if they do anything, or omit to do anything that shows “wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons.”
By omitting to lock your door or store your garbage properly, you are right away endangering the life of a bear, and thus showing disregard for its life and safety. I can’t imagine the actions of Whistlerites in encouraging bear encounters as anything less than criminally negligent. We should know better.
I know it’s far-fetched to propose charges of criminal negligence against anyone who fails to lock their door. The charge only applies to humans, and not animals. Applying human laws to animals in this case would require an exhaustive revisiting of the Criminal Code – a can of worms that no one would be willing to open, precisely because it requires so much work.
In summary, bears excited me when I first came to Whistler. They’re undoubtedly an exotic sight for tourists from all over the world. But beyond that, Whistlerites have a responsibility to protect them. It’s not too much to ask to keep them safe.
Just lock your door and store your garbage. You’re not being asked to reverse the output of greenhouse gases here.