The Whistler Wildlife Protection Group (WWPG) met earlier this month to discuss the future direction of the group and determine how to help prevent future bear deaths in the resort.
The citizen-led initiative was launched in late August riding a wave of public outcry over the deaths of a 10-year-old sow and her two cubs near Lost Lake. Conservation officers killed the bears as a result of human conflict.
Since forming, the group has debated how to turn the strong online support it's enjoyed — the WWPG Facebook group now counts close to 400 members — into meaningful action on the ground.
"We have so many people here (in Whistler) from all over the world. We need to understand a way to teach them the values of the town," said group co-chair Ranya Dube at the Dec. 17 meeting.
The group proposed organizing a community outreach program that would educate newcomers to town on proper BearSafe practices. Dube suggested offering a "local's card" with discounts to participating stores for those who complete the training.
With concerns around the impacts largescale events like Ironman can have on the local bear population — a cub died after being captured by officials during the 2016 race — the WWPG floated forming a volunteer team that could help with bear management in areas where the Conservation Officer Service (COS) is undermanned. (There are typically only three officers and a sergeant covering the area between North Vancouver and Pemberton at any given time.) A similar initiative was put in place for this year's Pemberton Music Festival, where a crew of volunteers led by the Wind River Bear Institute used dogs to shepherd bears away from the event grounds.
"(Volunteers) usually worked with a dog and a dog handler and would get direction onsite," explained Sylvia Dolson, executive director of the Whistler Get Bear Smart Society.
The WWPG has also lobbied the municipality to ramp up enforcement on garbage disposal and removal. The current minimum fine for a violation of Whistler's Garbage Disposal and Wildlife Attractants bylaw is $2,000.
"Fines for garbage and littering are not currently a priority for Whistler as enforcement seems to be challenging," said group member MJ Mullin, paraphrasing an email sent to the municipality by co-chair Eve Gallant.
Coun. Sue Maxwell, who sits on the Bear Advisory Working Group, shared that the RMOW is exploring various options to help residents without access to vehicles get their trash to the waste depot, like, for example, a carsharing program. It was also confirmed that the RMOW would be launching an initiative in 2017 that will see private contractors collecting garbage from residents without cars.
Keeping the communication lines open between the COS and the public was another a hot-button issue for the group. Many in attendance felt that the public would be more willing to report wildlife issues if conservation officers were more forthcoming with information about bear conflict.
"If people know the truth, we would phone them, but we won't phone them if we don't know what's going on," said Tanya James, who recently met with a conservation officer to discuss the killing of a bear, known locally as Charlie, that had repeatedly entered the same garage. She claims it was difficult to get straight answers out of the officer.