Whistler Traveller Magazine - - LOCAL VIBE -

Of all the in­hab­i­tants of the Whistler area, griz­zly bears are at the top of the food chain — the most feared and enig­matic of what are some­times re­ferred to as “charis­matic mega-fauna.” While sight­ings of griz­zly bears are ex­ceed­ingly rare, they do oc­cur in back­coun­try re­gions. Be­fore Euro­pean con­tact, the griz­zly bear was found in vast swaths of North Amer­ica from Mex­ico to the Arc­tic Ocean. “Hunt­ing and habi­tat frag­men­ta­tion caused their ranges to rad­i­cally shrink, push­ing them far­ther north to in­tact forests. Griz­zlies now oc­cupy only two per cent of their his­tor­i­cal range in the con­ti­nen­tal United States,” ac­cord­ing to the Coast to Cas­cades Griz­zly Bear Ini­tia­tive (C2C) web­site.

B.C. is one place where ef­forts are un­der­way to pro­tect and en­hance the pop­u­la­tions that re­main. The B.C. govern­ment out­lawed the griz­zly bear hunt in De­cem­ber 2017, and in western Canada, griz­zlies are listed as a species of “spe­cial con­cern,” ac­cord­ing to the Com­mit­tee on the Sta­tus of En­dan­gered Wildlife in Canada. Since 2013, C2C has been at the fore­front of ef­forts to ap­ply a sci­ence-based ap­proach to­ward protection of griz­zly pop­u­la­tions in six re­gions of south­west B.C. Johnny Mikes, C2C’s Whistler-based field co­or­di­na­tor, said up-to-date in­for­ma­tion from pro­vin­cial bi­ol­o­gists — who track griz­zlies through GPS col­lar­ing and DNA sam­pling — is im­por­tant in help­ing C2C ed­u­cate the pub­lic about the need for land-use de­ci­sion-mak­ing that min­i­mizes the like­li­hood of hu­man-griz­zly bear con­flicts and griz­zly bear deaths.

“Peo­ple gen­er­ally want to do the right thing, but of­ten they just don’t know what’s there and what to do in re­sponse to that,” said Mikes. “So, we need to have all the in­for­ma­tion be­fore de­cid­ing to put trails in, for ex­am­ple, then camp­grounds; and if you do, how to man­age your food. You want to be plan­ning it so that you’re not putting bears or hu­mans in dan­ger be­cause of those projects. The sci­en­tists, the bi­ol­o­gists, have been re­ally gen­er­ous with their time with us. We try to make all our work sci­ence-based, so their co­op­er­a­tion is vi­tal to our work.”

Ac­cord­ing to C2C, the griz­zly pop­u­la­tion in the Squamish-Lil­looet area — in­clud­ing the Cal­laghan and Soo val­leys west of Whistler and up to the Ryan River drainage west of Pem­ber­ton — is es­ti­mated at 59 bears. In the Garibaldi-Pitt area, bounded on the west by High­way 99 and on the east by the Pitt River north­east of Van­cou­ver, the es­ti­mated pop­u­la­tion is just two bears. Bears do oc­ca­sion­ally move across the high­way, Mikes said, but the more ge­o­graph­i­cally iso­lated a small pop­u­la­tion is, the more likely it is to wink out of ex­is­tence be­cause of nat­u­ral or hu­man-caused deaths such as ve­hi­cle col­li­sions, shoot­ings or il­le­gal poach­ing. For that rea­son, it’s some­times nec­es­sary to re­lo­cate bears to en­sure that they can in­ter­act and breed.

The home ter­ri­to­ries of griz­zly and black bears of­ten over­lap, and that can lead to con­flicts. “In gen­eral, it’s fair to say that griz­zly bears are dom­i­nant, but you can have a large male black bear that’s a threat to a smaller griz­zly bear and her cubs,” Mikes said. “There’s a cer­tain den­sity of roads and traf­fic in a given area that will tend to make griz­zlies ven­ture fur­ther into the back­coun­try. In gen­eral, they are less tol­er­ant of hu­man pres­ence than black bears, and they tend to be more de­fen­sive of their cubs.”

Griz­zlies can be iden­ti­fied by their larger, broader heads and the broad hump in the shoul­der area. Both griz­zly and black bears can be black, cin­na­mon-coloured or shades in be­tween. If you spot ei­ther species, main­tain a re­spect­ful dis­tance, back away while main­tain­ing eye con­tact and con­sider your­self lucky to have viewed such a wild and ma­jes­tic crea­ture. For in­for­ma­tion about C2C, visit coast­to­cas­cades.org.

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