Michael Allen Interview – By Sarah Walters, Assistant Manager at Re-Use-It Centre
Living in Whistler you follow aspects of the lives of the awesome local people and the causes they support. And that’s the nature of the town we live in is that it’s success and compassionate vibes comes from the joy of sharing the same things. The love of wilderness and its animals; the fruits of the seasons and community spirit that exists but it is especially prevalent through hard and good times.
This week, we have more insight to share from Michael Allen, the corridor’s Bear Researcher, who has given a second life to a bear hide donated to the store.
What tips can you give the community coming in to bear season?
The best way to help bears is by keeping “your space” in Whistler’s environment clean. That’s all bears really ask…an environment to share without temptations of human food…that’s what kills bears…sooner or later. We’re likely in for a milder spring than last year and because of 2011′s poorest berry crop on record; we may have a few early bears in March. When bears emerge and there is just snow on the ground, some head directly to backyards and birdfeeders. So you should have your bird and squirrel feeders down by mid-March and start getting into the habit of keeping anything food or garbage related securely inside. Remember, recycling is bear food. Make sure you clean recycled containers with soap.
How do you envisage the co-habitation between residents and bears moving forward over the next few years?
This is the best question anyone’s ever asked. The last two years saw a lot of bears die in the Whistler area…over 50…mostly due to being destroyed as conflict bears from garbage-feeding leading to breaking into homes and bears being struck by vehicles on Highway 99.
Bears also died from old age, malnutrition, and injuries from other bears. Having two bad berry crops back to back (2010 and 2011) didn’t help. It’s important to understand the bear population is cyclic. When we experience balanced, seasonal weather, bear survival is higher. When we have unseasonal, extreme weather, bear survival is lower. Extreme scales of snowfall, rain, and/or temperature reduces the availability of huckleberries and blueberries, the bear’s most important food. These cycles in the bear population will always occur…so we will have good years and bad years.
This year, we will have less bears around because 2010 and 2011 were bad for berries and bear survival was low. This year, a base population of at least 45 bears (that I know) could grow to 60+ bears depending on how many cubs are produced. In the WB ski area, there are 17 female bears and 16 of them are due to have cubs. They all won’t produce cubs but we should have more cubs this year than the seven cubs in 2011. When the bear population does drop, competition between bears goes down and some bear survival increases because there are less bears looking for food. And please don’t hide behind Whistler’s BearSmart status…last summer the berries failed and bears tested the system and accessed garbage everywhere. So bear proof containment continues to be a progressive challenge each year.
Before we let you go, can you remember the coolest item you have found at the Re-Use-It Centre, or best item you’ve dropped off for donation?
I found a great desk, which in the Whistler area is pretty much impossible to find. Mostly, I have dropped off lots of stuff ranging from DVDs to snow boots to computer screens.
Thanks to Michael for giving this bear hide a new life and for his commitment to learning and promoting ‘considerate and bear smart’ behaviour so we can live in harmony with Whistler’s bear population.
For more information on how to be bear smart you can participate in bear viewing and ecology tours through Whistler Blackcomb by calling 1-800-766-0449 or read more on their site at HERE. Read about more ways to behave responsibly with Whistler’s bears at http://www.bearsmart.com/, or contact your municipality for more information.