Law enforcement and wildlife officials have shot and killed four black bears in the Whistler area so far this year after the animals were deemed to be too habituated and a threat to the public.
That number is in stark difference to the 14 bears shot and killed last year in the resort as a result of significant human-wildlife conflict that characterized the 2011 season.
Peter Busink, a sergeant with the conservation officer service, said it is difficult to pinpoint any one specific reason for the lower number.
“This year has definitely been one of the lower years in terms of bears we had to destroy,” Busink said. “It is really hard to say it has to do with numerous different factors and how they all relate to each other.”
One factor that may have contributed, he said, is the high number of bears that were killed last year. Busink said with so many removed last year there are not as many habituated bears in urban areas this year.
“They are on an upward trajectory of conflict and the potential for human risk (increases) every year as they become more habituated,” he said, adding a year like 2011 saw more habituated bears reach a point where they had to be destroyed. “That meant fewer returning habituated bears in the area this year.”
The Get Bear Smart Society executive director Sylvia Dolson said she has noticed, and others have told her that there seems to be less bears in the resort this year compared to last.
She noted the high number of bear deaths in 2011 — 14 killed due to conflict with humans and nine bears confirmed killed after being struck on the highway — and the year before. It has been suggested that over 50 bears were killed in the area those two years, representing half the total local population.
“It hasn’t been as tragic as last year,” she said. “For me, every loss is one too many.”
She added there were poor berry crops two years in a row, which affects the number of cubs born each spring.
“It is a very complex issue and there are a lot of contributing factors,” she said. “We can speculate but we hardly ever know the real answer.”
The two most recent bears killed by conservation officers were shot on Oct. 16 and Oct. 18. The first bear was relocated three times before it was killed. Busink said it was moved on July 19 and 28, but returned in both cases.
“Obviously, it was a habituated bear and it was in the populated areas of Whistler, but was still not displaying aggressive behaviour so we wanted to give it one last chance and relocate it far away,” he said.
The third time, he said, it was moved a longer distance. However, it returned and was reported on the Valley Trail being aggressive. The bear destroyed on Oct. 18 in Function Junction was known to conservation officers as it had been in that neighbourhood at the same time last year with two cubs breaking into vehicles.
This time, it had also gained access to a garbage compactor, although it did not have cubs.
Prior to those two bears, one was destroyed on Aug. 21 after it broke into one home and attempted to access three others in the 19 Mile Creek area of Alpine Meadows. That bear was relocated in 2009 and again in 2010 prior to being killed.
The fourth bear was destroyed by RCMP on June 2 after it attacked a man in a hot tub in the backyard of a residence on Casabella Crescent, in the Montebello area between Highway 99 and Blackcomb Way.
A total of 10 relocations have occurred this year, said Busink, including the bear killed on Oct. 3 (relocated three times) and another bear that has been moved twice. One relocation involved a sow and two cubs.
Busink said the earliest form of intervention that residents can do to prevent bear deaths is to manage attractants.
“Ultimately, if everyone took the responsibility to fully manage their attractants … we would likely not have to destroy one bear due to human conflict and habituated behaviour,” he said.
Dolson said with bears in hyperphagia at this time of year, in search of as many calories they can get to bulk up for the winter, managing attractants is more important than ever.
“There is no other magic answer,” she said. “It always comes back to the attractants and the people who are providing them.”
Right now, that includes any form of food garbage in vehicles, pumpkins left outside from Halloween and mountain ash berries used as part of landscaping immediately adjacent to places where humans are on a regular basis.
“We need to do a better job of educating that whatever draws bears into inappropriate places is a problem,” Dolson said. “One really great food reward can really reinforce a lesson for a bear we didn’t want him to learn.”
Food rewards are learnt by bears, and once that happens, said Dolson, bears don’t unlearn the lesson.
“They will go back to that behaviour any time they can’t get food anywhere else.”
Go to www.bearsmart.com for more information on the society or how to manage attractants.
All black bear sightings in Whistler should also be called into the Report all Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) line 1-877-952-7277 or #RAPP on cellphones.