A black bear was destroyed in Rainbow Park by the local Conservation Officer Service (COS) on Saturday, Aug. 11, after accessing food from a picnic table while people were present.
"The bear walked right on the picnic table while people were eating there. It was a pretty scary situation, so the bear was destroyed," explained Sgt. Simon Gravel of the COS.
The bear was previously seen accessing food from a picnic table and garbage at Meadow Park earlier in the week, prompting the Resort Municipality of Whistler to issue a bear alert on Wednesday, Aug. 8.
"We worked together with the bylaw officers, put some signs up and then my officer hazed the bear away from the area," Gravel explained, adding that the COS received multiple calls from both the RCMP dispatch and the RAPP line about the bear accessing unsecured food. "That triggered a wildlife alert to let people in the area know to be vigilant, but of course the bear's behaviour escalated pretty quick."
The blue-tagged male bear is Whistler's second bear of the year to be killed by the COS due to human conflict, following the bear that was killed in Bayshores in April after swiping a woman's leg.
"The bear was tagged previously, a long time ago, actually, because it had a different colour of tag, so it had a history of conflict. It was a difficult situation, and we tried a lot of different things there, but sometimes situations are hard to manage and escalate to a situation where unfortunately we need to make a difficult decision to keep people safe," Gravel said.
"If you're sitting at a picnic table and a bear with history of conflict like this walks right on one picnic table while you're there, obviously it indicates a very high level of habituation and food conditioning. We know the combination of both is very dangerous behaviour—we run out of options when that (level) is reached."
Nicole Fitzgerald, Whistler coordinator for the Get Bear Smart Society, agreed that, "Everyone was doing their job."
"A bear needs to eat. The Conservation Officer Service's mandate is to protect public safety first and foremost," she wrote in a statement following the incident. "This bear's story might have ended in a park, but this is not where his story began. How many incidents did it take to make a wild animal like this get to a point where he was comfortable enough to get up on a picnic table, near people, to feed?"
She urges the public to do its part when it comes to preventing further bears from meeting the same fate, by keeping their distance—" seven school buses, to be exact," she said—securing garbage and bird feeders, cleaning barbecues, and giving bears a negative experience by yelling and making noise if the animal comes into a public or residential space, "especially now when bear activity is on the rise."
The COS received 55 calls about bears in Whistler in July, up from 27 in June and 24 in May. They have already received 32 throughout the first 14 days of August.
"We do have bears that are walking around obviously, seeking food, so the messaging needs to be the same: it's very, very critical that these bears don't access non-natural food," Gravel said.
The public is urged to report any bear sightings throughout Whistler to the COS at 604-905-BEAR or 1-877-952-7277. Early reporting enables the COS to try to change these bears' behaviour with non-lethal methods, before that behaviour escalates in a manner that poses a risk to public safety, according to the COS.