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Understanding Whistler’s Ursus Americanus

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

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Often, the situation simply points back to the lesson of properly securing garbage.

“There seems to be all types of education on bears in Whistler, or awareness,” Allen reflected. “I think there’s more awareness than education, because often we hear of bears dying and hear bears getting destroyed. We hear why the bear’s destroyed, but we don’t talk a lot about that bear itself and the events that that bear experienced that led up to that situation… It instills a little bit of fear, but it doesn’t really accomplish anything, because it’s still happening.”

While he agrees that garbage management in Whistler is a large part of the problem, Allen said we should also be looking at the specifics of the bear’s history — how it got to the point of conflict.

He wants people to learn about how bears lead their lives, so we can better understand their behaviour. So he decided to observe a group of bears in the ski area for 20 to 25 years, an average female bear’s lifespan in Whistler, to learn about their lives.

“I try and go where I’m more effective, and my background is learning about the bears, so I spend my time with the bears, trying to understand how they live, and I do this as neutrally as I can,” he said, adding that he tries to observe without interfering.

He also takes a lot of photos while he’s out in the field.

“Photography is the basis of my research,” Allen added. “I try and photo document as much as a can.”

At the beginning of his research, he didn’t have the proper equipment.

“It was frustrating — lots of fuzzy pictures of bears,” he quipped.

But within the past five years or so, he’s managed to get his hands on some quality gear.

“You’d be amazed at the power of high resolution and a really nice image, how powerful that is.”

Allen takes the information he gathers in the field back to residents and tourists, through a series of talks and nature walks. Three times per day, he takes groups of up to six people out into the field with him, as part of the ski area bear viewing program, which he has been running for almost nine years.