When you're hosting one of the wildest parties of the summer, there's bound to be some wildlife in the mix, but the Conservation Officer Service (COS) still thinks organizers of the Sea to Sky's major music festivals could do more to keep both attendees and animals safe.
"I think some improvements can be made," said conservation officer Tim Schumacher. "It's been a little tricky because you have so many people — basically a small town — coming into an area and setting up in bear habitat."
There were 35 bear sightings and three cougar sightings reported during Pemberton Music Festival (PMF) this year, which ran from July 16 to 19, as well as several more before and after the event, Schumacher said. Last year, several bears were fenced into the festival grounds as well, with one having to be immobilized and relocated.
At Squamish Valley Music Festival (SVMF), which ran from Aug. 6 to 9, there were no wildlife sightings reported during the event, although there was "a lot of bear activity" in the areas surrounding the festival grounds, said conservation officer Simon Gravel. The COS also issued 12 tickets to attendees camping near the festival site for failing to secure their attractants.
"It went pretty well, generally speaking," Gravel said of the SVMF. "Due to the volume of people, there were some who approached the bears too much. We were able to respond and educate the public."
Both festivals work with multiple agencies, including the COS, to devise a wildlife and waste management plan, but Schumacher said it's left up to event organizers to decide whether to implement the recommendations.
In the future, he'd like to see forested areas excluded from festival grounds, as well as a greater number of bear-proof bins placed along the outer boundaries of the sites.
"As with anything, you can always improve over time but we look to local agencies for advice," said PMF's community relations director David Buttrey, who noted that festival producer Huka Entertainment ramped up messaging around waste management this year, along with installing more fencing and bear-proof garbage bins.
After a photo circulated on social media showing the PMF campgrounds littered with garbage a day after the festival concluded, there was intense public outcry over the wasteful behaviour of attendees. SVMF executive director Paul Runnals believes the backlash resulted in festival-goers cleaning up their act at the Squamish event.
"We were on people from the minute they arrived," he said. "Campground ambassadors were engaging (attendees) constantly throughout the weekend; security and our waste management recycling teams were constantly going through and retrieving waste."
A key strategy for managing waste at SVMF was hiring mostly paid staff for clean-up efforts, as it can be difficult to motivate volunteers after the event is done, Runnals said.
"Obviously it's all about resources," he added. "The more resources you have, the quicker the clean-up happens, so that's why we stacked ourselves so much on the Sunday night and Monday morning to make sure we were completely on top of that stuff."
Local non-profit the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) was also enlisted to help with clean up at SVMF this year, with more than 100 volunteers dedicating over 660 on-site hours to collecting trash and diverting recyclables from the waste stream. More than 80,000 beverage containers were collected, according to AWARE.