Is Whistler doing a better job of protecting bears?

Last week, a woman called Pique Newsmagazine to share a warning with the community: lock your car doors.

No, she wasn’t the victim of theft — though that is also a good reason to keep your vehicle secure. It turns out a bear in the Alpine neighbourhood had learned to open unlocked car doors and locked itself into hers — causing an hours-long ordeal that resulted in her car being destroyed and the bear, eventually, sedated and removed.

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The story is proof that summer might be over, but bear season is not, particularly as the animals enter hyperphagia and attempt to get ready for the winter ahead.

To that end, the number of bears killed in Whistler has decreased from six in 2016 to three this year — although, conservation officers warn, there can still be human-bear conflicts in the fall.

Fingers crossed that number will remain and mark a downward trajectory in human-bear conflict. There’s reason to have hope. In the Community Foundation of Whistler’s recent Vital Signs report, it said bylaw services saw a 233 per cent increase in calls from people reporting trash (an obvious bear attractant) around town.

It might be optimistic to choose to believe this is a sign that people are better educated and therefore more vigilant with reporting, but it’s an explanation that the report also acknowledges.

Furthermore, the report also stated that last year the Conservation Officer Service received six per cent fewer calls related to bears than in 2015. (Again, those statistics could be interpreted two different ways, but let’s take the optimistic route.)

While it might be OK to remain cautiously optimistic about Whistler’s evolving relationship with bears, it appears B.C. as a whole is not doing a very good job of co-existing with our furry friends.

Provincially, there were more than 20,000 human-wildlife conflicts this year — around 70 per cent of those with black bears. In total, 469 black bears and 27 grizzlies were destroyed in the province.

The numbers are daunting — and it’s hard to imagine what kind of impact we can make. The best we can do is focus on our own corner of the province — remain diligent about bear attractants, continue to report trash and potential conflicts before they escalate and support initiatives that help educate locals and visitors.

By setting an example and reducing our numbers locally — in one of the province’s busiest tourist destinations — it proves to the rest of the province that it can be done. As we wrap up another season and head into winter, it’s worth considering what we did well and what we can improve upon for next year.

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