Tag Archives: whistler wildlife

VIDEO: Bear viewing at the old dump

Among the many autumn rituals in Whistler are watching the changing colours in our surrounding forests, watching the snow line slowly move down the mountainsides, enjoying some relatively quiet time here in the village, and perhaps skipping town altogether with a fall getaway.

For many residents, Fall is a crucial time of year when they eat non-stop and try to put on weight in preparation for the long winter. No, we’re not talking about depressed mountain bikers at Thanksgiving dinner, but our local black bears of course!

Every autumn, black bears enter a physiological state called hyperphagia, which essentially means increased appetite. After having climbing up the mountainsides through the summer they often come back down to lower elevations in search of any calorie-rich foods that might be left, like mountain ash berries, or roots and greens in marshy lowlands.

In a place like Whistler, it also means a time of heightened bear-human interactions, as they are more commonly looking for food in human-occupied places. Increased diligence in securing your garbage, being aware of your surroundings when hiking or biking in the forests, and giving bears plenty of space when you do encounter them is especially important this time of year.

In Whistler we do quite a good job of co-existing with our ursine friends, and are one of only seven officially recognized “Bear Smart” communities in British Columbia. We still have our challenges, but to demonstrate how far we’ve come, here’s a video of black bears feeding at our local dump in the early 1970s.

The dump, located right in the middle of the valley where Whistler Village now stands, was open air, unfenced, and got routinely overrun with bears back then. Many long-time residents recall that it was the preferred bear-viewing spot in the valley, and it’s not hard to see why!

Today, our “dump” (actually called a Waste Transfer Station) is well-fenced in and we manage our garbage far more responsibly. Please do your part to help ensure that our local bears have a smooth transition to winter during this crucial time of year!

For more information on black bears, and how to live, work, and play responsibly in bear country, please visit the Get Bear Smart Society.

 

An Ode to the Beaver

A report on the ecology of the Alta Lake region by naturalists Kenneth Racey and Ian McTaggart-Cowan from 1935 depicts a Whistler we all are familiar with. They reinforce the picture of a diverse and eco-rich valley with an abundance of species of animals and vegetation alike. Today the Whistler Biodiversity Project has documented over 2500 species in the area, expecting that number to be up to 3000 when new records have been finalized.

Despite the whopping number of species in our fertile little valley, there are a few things that have changed since Racey and McTaggart Cowen collated their data back in the 1930’s.

The two men provided the provincial museum with a detailed overview of the species we have in Whistler. This overview included a description of the state of the Castor Canadensis Pacificus, or Pacific Beaver. It states “The Beaver has been completely trapped out in the district for over twenty years.” It goes on to mention that even though the Beaver has been hunted to nonexistence, proof of their lifestyle still exists in the form of dams left behind.

With the halt of killing beavers for their pelts came the slow re-emergence of a creature whose activities literally shaped the waterways of our country. When water depth or quantities are not suitable, the extraordinary beaver will transform a stream in a forest into a large pond with nothing more then gnawed wood, sticks and mud. Several plant species rely on such water sources for habitat, so beavers can also be credited to many a saved plant.

Beaver

Canada, in the form of a swimming rodent. Photo by Bob Brett.

Beaver lodges and dams can be enormous. The largest on record spans 850 meters, which was found in Northern Alberta in 2007. It is possible that humans got the idea of a “nuclear” family from beavers, whose lodge consists of a pair of parents, their babies and yearlings. Monogamy anyone?

Their lodges can only be accessed from underwater. Beavers are great swimmers; with an extra, transparent eyelid that’s helps them see underwater. They have large webbed feet, which they use as flippers, and a paddle-shaped, rudder-like tail. Their tail is leathery and large, growing up to 38 centimeters. The sound of these large tails slapping the water also acts as an alarm to warn of a predator. On land the tail can prop up a sitting beaver and add extra balance while they are carrying supplies.

Our main industry, tourism, has to give thanks to the beavers as well for assuring that tour companies can operate in hot and dry years. With the improved management of this inspiring species we can assure their continued existence and in turn the continued flourishing of the Whistler valley.

 

Who can resist falling in love with this little guy?

 

By Shayna Ross-Kelly

Summer is the Season to Discover Nature!

Enjoying nature is a year-round activity, but summer is the best time to experience our natural environment in its full splendour. Many species have adapted to our harsh mountain landscape and long, snowy winters by laying low for much of the year. This conserves energy for the flourish of activity and abundance we see in summer.

Bears are probably our most beloved hibernators, waking from their slumbers in spring and chasing plant foods like berries up the mountainsides as the snowline recedes.  Once they reach the alpine in late summer, bears, along with hikers and other visitors, are welcomed by vast meadows carpeted in vibrant colours; alpine wildflowers who need to maximize their visibility to ensure they are pollinated by insects during the short, snowless growing season above treeline.

moss campion

Moss campion offers a burst of lavender amidst the bleak alpine scree. Photo: Bob Brett/Whistler Naturalists.

When it comes to seasonality, however, the hoary marmot, Whistler’s other mammalian mascot, takes first prize. Unlike bears, marmots live in the alpine year-round, and thus hibernate for 7-8 months of the year! This leaves them with a rather a short window to mate & reproduce, pose for tourist photos, and fatten up for the ensuing winter, so they can be quite loud and excitable.

IMG_7649

The Hoary Marmot dutifully poses for a photo op on Whistler Mountain. Jeff Slack photo.

The giant trees of our temperate rainforest are no different, going dormant through the winter and growing through the summer. In fact, the tree rings that we use to determine the ages of trees only exist because of this seasonal ebb and flow; the rings of light and dark matter coincide with periods of rapid and slow growth, respectively. Trees closer to the equator that lack distinct seasons have less prominent rings, or none at all.

Here at the museum, summer causes a spike in activity as well. First off, our brood of staff grows with the addition of summer students. Secondly, summertime means an increase in our outdoor, family-friendly programming. Our Valley of Dreams walking tours resumed in June and continue daily, by-donation, until the end of August. This past week we saw the return of two more family favourites: Discover Nature, and Crafts in the Park.

Now in its second summer, Discover Nature aims to educate and inspire wonder about Whistler’s amazing natural world. It is offered every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in July and August, from 10am-4pm, at Lost Lake Park. On the lawn above Lost Lake beach we have an interactive table led by professional naturalist Kristina Swerhun. Guests will learn all about Whistler’s rich biodiversity, from bears to bacteria, and the intricate ecological web in which we live. Additionally, guided nature walks will depart from the Passivhaus at the entrance to Lost Lake Park every day at 11am.

See you outside!

Discover Nature

Whistler Museum announces a new ‘Discover Nature’ program

Get ready to Discover Nature with the Whistler Museum! With help from the Whistler Naturalists and the Whistler Biodiversity Project, the Museum is piloting a public education program this summer.

The program includes a Discover Nature Station at Lost Lake and a Discover Nature activity booklet for kids. The Discover NatureStation will be open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 am – 4 pm, starting July 1st and running until September 3rd. It will operate under a tent just outside the concession by the Lost Lake beach. Highlights include manned touch tables showcasing a wide range of Whistler’s amazing nature as well as demonstrations that people can drop in and interact with throughout the day. The Discover Nature Station will also serve as a starting point for scheduled nature walks and other family activities, encouraging face-to-face engagement with nature.

Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, nature walks will meet at 10 am at the Discover Nature Station and run for about one hour. Family activities will start each day at 1, 2 & 3 pm and run for about 30 minutes each. There will be a different theme for each week day of operation, such as forests, wetlands and water, so those interested could come back on consecutive days and discover something new. All programming at Lost Lake will be by donation. If you have a large group interested in any of these programs, please contact the Museum in advance so special arrangements can be made.

The Discover Nature activity booklet for kids is a self-guided and full of fun activities that teach about the wonders of nature here in Whistler. It was inspired by similar successful programs in National Parks across Canada and the US, and locally by the Bear Smart Kids booklet. The booklet includes 15 activity pages, a completion certificate and is illustrated by local artist Kate Zessel. A special Whistler souvenir will be awarded to those who complete activities in the booklet. The Discover Nature activity booklet for kids will be on sale at the Whistler Museum and Lost Lake as well as other outlets, with proceeds going back to the program. If any businesses are interested in carrying the booklet they are asked to please contact the Museum.

The Discover Nature program is designed to meet the Museum’s mission of interpreting the natural history of mountain life. Emphasis will be on the notion that all organisms (including us) are interconnected. The goal of the program is to promote environmental stewardship, enhance educational opportunities for residents and visitors alike, and endorse Whistler as an awesome place to explore nature.

Photograph by Trish Odorico.

The program would not have been possible without generous funding from the Community Foundation of Whistler and the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, as well as support from the Resort Municipality of Whistler. Other key contributors include Bob Brett, Julie Burrows, Emma Tayless, Jane Millen and Sylvia Dolson. The Museum is also thankful to the AWARE Kids Nature Club and the Whistler Library’s Wonder Club for being great inspirations.

The Whistler Museum would love the community to come and help kickoff of the program at Lost Lake on July 1st. Come out for a picnic and appreciate that food is nature too!

Photograph by Michael Allen.

Photograph by Michael Allen.

For any additional information, booking large groups or booklets for resale, contact the Museum at 604-932-2019,DiscoverNature@WhistlerMuseum.org, or drop in. The Museum is located at 4333 Main St. behind the Library.

“There’s been talk of nature programming in Lost Lake Park for years so it’s exciting to be a part of this pilot project. I think anything that makes nature education more accessible will have far-reaching benefits. Like fostering environmental stewardship and expanding cultural tourism opportunities here in Whistler. The program has also been a great reason to reach out to many others and the response has been terrific. For example, the Royal BC Museum is willing to loan us items for our touch tables, Nature Kids BC has been very helpful with our programming for kids and the Federation of Alberta Naturalists has contributed to the kids’ booklet. Closer to home, we’ve been in touch with many local businesses and organizations that have also been really supportive,” says Kristina Swerhun, Coordinator of the Discover Nature program and also with the Whistler Naturalists.

“The Community Foundation of Whistler is excited to support this program. The Environmental Legacy Grants program seeks to support education about our natural environment and promote stewardship. Lost lake park is a fabulous location for the Discover Natureprogram, particularly with the annual Western Toad migration that usually takes place in the middle of the park during the summer. The program will benefit both locals and visitors and will hopefully lead all to a greater respect and understanding of the amazing ecosystems in our community,” says Carol Coffee, Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Whistler.

Whistler Is About To Get BioBlitzed

Pull out your microscopes and get ready to examine, because BioBlitz 2015 is coming to Whistler! What is a BioBlitz, you ask? Well, let us tell you.

A BioBlitz is essentially a festival bringing together teams of volunteer scientists, families, students, teachers, and community members to identify as many species of plants, animals, and other organisms as possible. What makes the event different from any other field study is that it is a race against time! All of these volunteers only have 24 hours to discover as many species as possible within the specified area.

The term was first coined by U.S. National Park Service naturalist Susan Rudy, who assisted with the very first blitz held at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (Washington,D.C.) in 1996. Since this initial event, the blitz has become a world-wide phenomenon, springing up in countries all over the world.

Bioblitz2

BioBlitz aims to discover as many alpine and valley organisms as possible in the Whistler area. Some common animals found in our lakes, rivers, and wetlands are frogs, salamanders, beavers, and Rainbow Trout.

While a BioBlitz is geared toward bringing scientists of various backgrounds together, the event also strives to create an exciting and relaxed environment for the study to take place, as well as introduce the general public to the biodiversity that exists within their home. BioBlitz Festivals provide the opportunity for people to meet real scientists, ask any questions they may have, and learn how to conserve the habitat of the plants and animals that reside in their area.

Bioblitz1

The BioBlitz Nature Festival, held in Alpha Lake Park on June 27th, will give participants the opportunity to touch real insects, various plants, and even a water snake!

BioBlitz was first introduced to Whistler in 2007 by the Whistler Naturalists, with the goal of targeting both alpine and valley ecosystems across the region. This year, the program will be taking place in Alpha Lake Park. The number of areas within the Resort Municipality of Whistler that have been ‘blitzed’ in past years continues to grow, including Brandywine Falls Provincial Park, Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, the Emerald forest, and more. The introduction of this educational race against the clock for locals and visitors of all ages has lead to the discovery of more and more species every single year.

 

Bioblitz3      BioBlitz4

The BioBlitz Nature Festival, which showcases the amphibians, reptiles, spiders, plants, and fungi found in the area using interactive displays, will be taking place in Alpha Lake Park on Saturday June 27th. Participants will have the opportunity to touch a giant water bug or snake, learn about frogs and lichens, and take part in a scavenger hunt. The Festival encourages children of all ages, parents, youth, adults, and seniors to come join in the fun from 12 to 5 pm!

Get Bear Smart

By Alexandra Gilliss, Program Coordinator/Summer Student

Having lived in Whistler for just about a month now, I was amazed to experience my first close-up sighting of a black bear during an initial outing in the bike park. The even better part is that this was just the first of several bears I would encounter. Whistler is indeed bear country, but with humans and bears living together in such close proximity, several precautions must be taken for a harmonious co-existence between the two species.

Bear

With about 900,000, the most common bear in North America is the black bear. They can be found in all Canadian provinces and territories except for P.E.I.

Problematic interactions between bears and residents have occurred since tourists first began arriving in Alta Lake in 1913. It wasn’t until 1995 that the Bear Smart Society was registered as a non-profit charity, with the mission to minimize the number of bears killed as a result of human-caused problems. Since then, the group has strived to educate the public on bear safety, and encouraged businesses to ensure all garbage and food waste is in secured containers out of reach of bears and to keep all doors closed at all times.

Bear-2

Bears are not mean or malicious, but mothers with their cubs can become quite aggressive when they feel threatened. It is important to always give them lots of space during an encounter.

Bear-4

Bears tend to avoid contact with humans, and often, hikers are not even aware when they come close to bears in the wild.

One particular story that tugged on my heart strings is that of Jeanie, Whistler’s famous black bear. With her distinct white triangle on her chest, Jeanie had been spotted in and around the Whistler village for approximately 20 years beginning in 1991, even becoming the star of her own Facebook page. In 2007, worries surrounding the bear began to arise as she had made a habit of coming into the village with her cubs in search of readily available garbage. Jeanie had become so accustomed to human activity that she even began charging conservation officers that attempted to direct her out of the village, leading many to believe she had become a public safety threat. Despite the Bear Smart Society and others’ pleas for businesses and residents to lock up food waste and garbage, the situation came to a head on October 20, 2011 when Jeanie was destroyed by conservation officers after numerous weeks of aggressive behaviour. In addressing the incident, the Bear Smart Society states, “less berries in 2011 and more competition for berry patches in the ski area, which is where Jeanie’s home range was, likely drove her to seek food in peopled areas.”

Bear-3

This bear, named “Twix” by a grade 5 student, was tagged in his left ear because of his habit of breaking into garbage bins and getting too comfortable with people.

While Whistlerites mourned the death of the local bear, the event came as a wake up call and efforts to create a community that was safe for both bears and humans increased. You’ve probably seen many of the locked garbage and recycling bins throughout the village. These systems are just one way in which Whistler has become more bear conscious. Today, Whistler is recognized as a Bear Smart Community by the province of British Columbia, meaning that the region has gone above and beyond in terms of discouraging bears from coming into the area. This makes Whistler the 4th municipality in B.C. to receive this status (the other communities being Lions Bay, Kamloops, and Squamish).

Grizzlies in the Valley

As most of us are well aware, wildlife is constantly in flux. Species come and go; they migrate; they evolve; they become extinct. These transitions are especially evident living in Whistler, as wildlife surrounds us, so much so that one of the first things I learned when I got here concerned our ever-changing mammal population. I quickly learned that although grizzly bears once roamed our valley, they have since moved on from this social, tourist town.

mammals-of-the-alta-lake001Recently, the museum acquired the book Mammals of the Alta Lake Region of South-western British Columbia by Kenneth Racey and Ian McTaggart Cowan, published in 1935. This fantastic account eloquently outlines the various mammals that were known to exist in the Whistler (then Alta Lake) region. The account of grizzlies is slight, with only a few documented sightings before 1935; however, we know that an abundance of brown bears made their homes here in Whistler for many years before humans moved in.

Check-list-of-mammalsGrizzly bears were common to the alpine meadows and adjacent timber of the Whistler region. On June 26th, 1924, grizzlies were seen in Avalanche Pass, between Mount Overlord and London Mountain (now known as Whistler Mountain). Could you imagine seeing a grizzly around Whistler Mountain today? Of course, there is far too much excitement around the mountain for a grizzly nowadays, as brown bears require a great deal of personal space.

Grizzlyread

The book states that the latest grizzly bear tracks were sighted on December 5th, 1932, by John Bailiff; however, there have been grizzly sightings in Whistler since the book’s publishing. The most recent occurrence was in Function Junction in 1989. Sadly, the bear was shot by an RCMP officer after it displayed aggressive behaviour toward local dogs.  There are also reports that claim that the RCMP officers did not have the necessary expertise or equipment to safely tranquilize and relocate the animal.

By now it is common knowledge that grizzly bears are rarely spotted in and around Whistler, but we have also seen a great decrease in brown bears across the Sea to Sky Corridor in general over the last century. This steady decline of the grizzly population began with a vengeance during the twentieth century, and was unsurprisingly largely man-made.

Aside from Racey and Cowan’s book, the museum holds a few other accounts of brown bears in Whistler, including photographs of hunted bears, as well as a newspaper article by John Bailiff about his attempt to hunt a mother grizzly in the 1930s. Bailiff’s article is a rather upsetting read, as he takes us through his excitement at the thought of killing the maternal bear, with seemingly no compassion for the cubs alongside her. Thankfully, times have changed and continue to progress toward attitudes and laws that protect these ursine beauties that roam British Columbia.

Hunters with two trophy grizzly bears in the Singing Pass/Musical Bumps area, ca. 1916.

Hunters with two trophy grizzly bears in the Singing Pass/Musical Bumps area, ca. 1916.

For more information on bears in Whistler, and how you can be bear smart, visit the Bear Smart Society.