Whistler's Bear Story
The Resort Municipality of Whistler is a lively mountain community shared by 10,000 residents, two million annual visitors and approximately 100 black bears.
Located in the coastal mountain ranges north of Vancouver, it is a popular four-season tourist destination perhaps best known for its world-class skiing. Whistler boasts over 1,000,000 visitors during the summer months and a permanent resident population of 10,000. In addition to permanent residents, Whistler is a part-time home to approximately 11,500 second-home owners from around the world, as well as 2,300 seasonal residents.
The sense of community is very strong in Whistler. There is a passionate commitment to protect the natural mountain environment and become a sustainable resort community. Whistler has adopted a comprehensive sustainability plan - Whistler2020 - that moves beyond traditional piece-meal planning to broadly address social, economic and environmental issues in an integrated and proactive manner. One of the indicators of our progress is the number of black bears that are killed in and around the community each year.
Whistler was built in prime black bear habitat. In the Whistler Valley and surrounding mountains there are approximately 100 black bears. Development has removed some of the habitat, but some of it has been enhanced over the years by recent logging activities and the construction of ski runs, power lines, golf courses, gardens, parks and school yards.
The resulting high density of black bears has led to increasing human-bear conflicts in and around Whistler. Black bears are lured into residential and commercial areas by garbage and other non-natural food sources. Conflicts are intensified when local residents or visitors, who are unfamiliar with BearSmart practices, fail to properly dispose of their garbage or make other human-sourced foods available to bears.
The local government has committed to maintaining BearSmart community status for Whistler. Over the last few years, the Whistler Bear Working Group, on behalf of the Resort Municipality of Whistler, has been working towards becoming an official "Bear Smart" community. In the fall of 2011, we recieved the official designation.
The Bear Smart Community Program has been designed by the B.C. Ministry of Environment in partnership with the British Columbia Conservation Foundation and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. It is a voluntary, preventative conservation measure that encourages communities, businesses and individuals to work together. The goal is to address the root causes of human-bear conflicts, thereby reducing the risks to human safety and private property, as well as the number of bears that are destroyed each year.
The Bear Smart Community Program is based on a series of criteria that communities must achieve in order to be recognized as "Bear Smart":
- Prepare a bear hazard assessment of the community and surrounding area.
- Prepare a human-bear conflict management plan that is designed to address the bear hazards and land-use conflicts identified in the previous step.
- Revise planning and decision-making documents to be consistent with the bear/human conflict management plan.
- Implement a continuing education program, directed at all sectors of the community.
- Develop and maintain a bear-proof municipal solid waste management system.
- Implement "Bear Smart" bylaws prohibiting the provision of food to bears as a result of intent, neglect or irresponsible management of attractants.