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Tough love for Whistler bears

Aversion program aimed at saving conflict bears



A young female black bear that scaled a floor of the Marriott Hotel and found herself inside a room lured by the smell of peanut butter came back in town days after her relocation to nearby Wedge Mountain.

Despite a "hard release" at Wedge from Whistler’s bear officer Rob Groeger, who fired beanbags, rubber bullets and cracker shells at her, the young bear wandered "home."

She was lured by the smell of bacon and sausage wafting from an outdoor buffet at the Fairmont Chateau golf course, where staff chased her away.

Groeger said if she gets into trouble again he will ramp up the aversion conditioning, perhaps bringing in another officer, chasing after the bear through the bush and generally trying to get this young 75-pound bear to associate pain and stress with humans.

"It does hit hard (the beanbags and rubber bullets) and more than likely the bear will get a bruise out of it, but it’s designed not to kill the animal but adversely condition the animal," he said.

It’s a tough love technique but one that could save the bear’s life.

This unique aversion work, now in its second year of study in Whistler, was given a $200,000 boost last week from the provincial Ministry of Environment. The three-year study could rewrite the way B.C. towns deal with problem black bears.

Local MLA Joan McIntyre was on hand last Thursday to present the large cheque to Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed.

"What this bear aversion program is really about is saving the lives of bears," McIntyre said.

"We’re really trying to do the right thing for the bears."

Every year hundreds, and some years more than 1,000, black bears are destroyed mostly as a result of bear/human conflicts.

Even with the ongoing aversion study in Whistler two bears have been destroyed this season, one killed on Tuesday morning after getting into a home in Whistler Cay for the second time. It is believed this bear was also responsible for break-ins in White Gold, Nesters, Tapley’s Farm and an attempted break-in at the Whistler Golf Course Snack Shack.

He was, said Groeger, a severe risk to public safety.

Once a bear has learned how to break into a house and been rewarded with food there, it becomes a public safety risk.

The Whistler bear response officer has been called out to more than 20 different home invasions this year.

Sylvia Dolson, co-chair of the Whistler Black Bear Working Group which is responsible for the aversion research, explained their destruction protocol; once a bear has entered a four-sided structure it is considered for destruction.

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