A&E » Arts

Understanding Whistler’s Ursus Americanus

Local black bear researcher uses years of observation and photography to educate others



What: Boisterous Boys

When: Thursday, Aug. 28, 8:30 p.m.

Where: Lost Lake Park

Admission: Free

If you’ve lived in Whistler for any amount of time, odds are, you’ve come across one of those lumbering brutes in your driveway, or along the Valley Trail. After the first few close encounters, most people lose that initial gut-wrenching reaction when they run into a black bear, sauntering away indifferently — it seems that we’re as used to them as they are to us, now.

But human-bear conflicts have grown to be quite an issue in the area, and there’s one local man who wants to understand our bears better, in hopes that we can live more harmoniously together.

Originally from the Kootenays, Michael Allen is no stranger to the great outdoors. Even before he came to Whistler 15 years ago, Allen spent years studying B.C.’s wildlife.

He doesn’t have a scientific background but has always had a strong interest in bear behaviour, and began studying local bears when he first moved to the Whistler area.

“I haven’t gone to school or anything or done anything like that,” he said, “… I guess the biggest thing that motivated me from the beginning was that no one knew anything about B.C. black bears. There’s never been any long-term study on a population of black bears in British Columbia, and there still hasn’t (been). I’m the only one that’s collected information on a group of bears.”

While a few short-term masters studies have been done on B.C.’s black bears, and a lot of longer-term research has been done in the southern States, Alaska and even Alberta and Eastern Canada, Allen speculates that entire populations of black bears in this province have been largely ignored because they’re so common.

“Whenever we have an abundance of something, it doesn’t really show up as a priority,” Allen explained. “I think black bears are often overlooked, but they are the largest mammal that’s going to walk through our backyard.”

As a child during the ’70s and ’80s, Allen points out that the only options for dealing with so-called “problem bears” were to shoot or relocate them.

“I wanted to try and collect information to try and understand them,” Allen explained. “Because you couldn’t really get information from the government. You could get pamphlets on the do’s and don’ts around bears, but those don’t really teach people.”

And people are usually at the root of any human-bear conflict.

“Look at all the problems black bears cause throughout British Columbia. The populations are there, but people really cause the problems; we set the stage for bears to get into trouble, constantly,” Allen said.