Quit sending visitors to roadside bear hot spots: local advocate

The Get Bear Smart Society reminds Whistler workers that stopping on highway is illegal

The Get Bear Smart Society is asking frontline workers not to send tourists to bear hotspots along roads and highways on the outskirts of Whistler ahead of the busy summer season.

While this has been an ongoing problem, Sylvia Dolson, executive director of the society, said already this year visitors have been spotted getting too close to bears on the side of the road. She’s sent a letter outlining the problem to the Village Host, local concierges and visitor information workers. “Again this year it seems to be a problem,” she said. “COS (Conservation Officer Service) is on the lookout and any folks that work in the tourism industry, they should not be sending people to bear view in these known locations.”

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That has happened in the past, she added. “I wish I could figure it out,” she said, regarding why locals would send visitors to the areas.

“I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s cool to say, ‘I know where the bears are.’”

COS are ramping up patrol on side roads and Highway 99 for people who are pulled over feeding bears — which is illegal, Dolson added. The fine is $345. “It is actually illegal to stop on the road,” she said. “People actually get out of their vehicle, stand in the road where there’s traffic and start photographing.”

Bear viewing can be dangerous not only for people, but it’s detrimental to bears as well, she added. Feeding bears — which can be very dangerous for obvious reasons — causes habituation, and if that bear makes its way to the Village, it will expect to be fed by other humans, she explained. But simply getting close to a bear and causing it to look up while feeding can impact how many calories it’s getting. In some places, bears have actually climbed into onlooker’s cars. “The more that we can tell people what the negative consequences are to bears, to people and vehicles, I think that’s what we need to concentrate on,” Dolson said.

While she’s stopped to explain these points to rule-breaking visitors before, the reaction hasn’t always been great. “I’ve gotten out of my vehicle to try and talk some sense into people and they wouldn’t have any of it,” she said. “They wanted their picture of the bear. I ended up chasing the bear off and there was no bear to photograph.”

Instead of confronting people, she suggests taking a photograph of the incident, getting a clear image of the vehicle’s license plate and sending it to COS. “If word gets out that there are patrols and fines handed out to people, that seems to be working with things like speeding and drunk driving,” she said.

The best bet for tourists hoping to see a bear is on a guided tour, she said. In those cases, vehicles should be about 100 metres from the bear, with viewers remaining in the car and keeping quiet.

It can be a challenge educating visitors to Whistler about bear safety in general, said Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. “We have 2.7 million visitors annually,” she said. “A lot of them don’t speak English, so it’s a significant challenge. But we do what we can and that’s why the Village Host and Information Centre are critical pieces. Also the local residents are key pieces because quite frankly many of the instances with bear-human conflict are not with guests, but residents.”

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