Whistler continued to show why it’s one of the province’s leaders in bear safety with a measure introduced at Tuesday’s (Jan. 8) council meeting that would ban several plants from future municipally-approved landscape plans.
The move to eliminate single and multi-stemmed mountain ash, blueberries, huckleberries and clover from future landscape plans requiring approval was spearheaded by the town’s Whistler Bear Working Group (BWG) following a meeting with municipal staff in November. The multi-agency group consists of representatives from the RMOW, B.C.’s Conservation Officer Service, Whistler Blackcomb, Carney’s Waste Systems, the RCMP and the Get Bear Smart Society.
“This is learning by true experience, so now we’ve specifically identified the plants that we will not approve should a landscape design come to us for approval,” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.
The group has also worked in recent years to reduce the level of garbage available to bears in the community, leading to Whistler achieving the Bear Smart Community Status for its efforts in 2011. Through the BWG’s work, 22 strata garbage sheds were improved in recent years to further prevent access by bears.
“As we reduced the amount of garbage that’s available to bears, other priorities have arisen and some of the landscape plants in the valley, such as mountain ash, have come to the forefront as an issue that needed to be dealt with,” said BWG co-chair Heather Beresford during Tuesday’s presentation.
Mountain ash has been deemed a priority by the group, and is an issue that has persisted for conservation officers in the community for several years, said Beresford.
Municipal spokesperson Michele Comeau said the RMOW, Whistler Blackcomb, the Four Seasons and Hilton hotels have all removed mountain ash trees from their properties in recent years. The attractant is of particular concern during the fall season before bears go into hibernation, a period when they are more aggressive and conflicts with humans are more likely.
The measure will only apply to properties requiring development permits and will not be enforced retroactively.
Another aspect of the administrative report presented Tuesday set a communication protocol for conservation officers in dealing with properties that are determined to be a high-risk area for bears.
“If there’s a bear conflict problem at a location that triggers a need for response, then the communications protocol will kick into effect and they may be asked to remove (the attractants),” said Beresford.
If a property is identified as a problem, an introductory letter will be sent to the property owner from the BWG notifying them that a conservation officer will be in contact to set a meeting onsite in order to discuss what the issues are and to determine a plan for the removal of attractants. The officer will then follow up with a letter outlining an action plan and timeline for attractant removal, with the local Get Bear Smart Society offering assistance to property owners if required.
In the event of non-compliance, conservation officers and municipal bylaw services can issue tickets or write a dangerous wildlife protection order depending on the situation. The order requires immediate action and could result in a hefty fine or jail time in the event of non-compliance.
Beresford stressed that conservation officers’ mandate is not to punish property owners but to work with them to ensure the continued safety of residents and bears alike.
“This is not a witch-hunt, this is not going out and trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. We’re trying to be consistent in identifying places that would be high-risk and the conservation officer has the mandate to do so and protect public safety,” she said. “There’s a number of criteria conservation officers can use to determine if action is required.”
The new measures will be sent out to local landscape companies and landscape architects for their input.
In 2012, there were 178 human-bear conflicts in Whistler confirmed by witnesses or by attending conservation officers. Five bears were destroyed over the year by officers as a result of reported conflicts, according to information provided by the Get Bear Smart Society.