Tag Archives: wildlife

Grizzly Details

The recent sighting of a grizzly bear family near Whistler, along with the ongoing scientific, political, and public awareness efforts of the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Initiative has brought the larger variety of our ursine friends back into the public eye.

We’ve written about the history of grizzlies around Whistler before, and even contemplated their return. This remains a poorly understood topic among the general public, so we recently had a chat with Claire Ruddy, Communications & Outreach Coordinator for Coast to Cascades to get the inside scoop.

A family of grizzlies on Chilco Lake, In the South Chilcotin region to the north of Whistler. Photo: Jeremy William C2C Griizzly Initiative

A family of grizzlies on Chilco Lake, In the South Chilcotin region to the north of Whistler. Photo: Jeremy William/C2C Grizzly Initiative

First off, Coast to Cascades is a regional coalition of scientists and conservation experts working towards the successful coexistence of humans and grizzly bears in southwestern BC. What makes their work so crucial is the fact that our region currently rests along the southern line of extinction of grizzly bears in North America, a population which used to extend all the way to central Mexico.

The task of stopping the further retreat of grizzly habitat now firmly rests in our hands. It helps to understand our region’s grizzlies in terms of distinct population units:

A map of the grizzly population of southwestern BC, divided into the distinct population units using 2012 provincial government data.

A map of the grizzly population of southwestern BC, divided into the distinct population units, using 2012 provincial government data.

When you see the numbers on the map and understand how vast the territories occupied by each of these population units, you start to appreciate how imperilled these grizzlies are. Unfortunately for the Garibaldi-Pitt group, an estimated population of 2 means that the sub-population to our immediate south has very little long-term viability, though there is some hope.

Like the neighbouring North Cascades sub-population, one key to long-term sustainability for critically endangered grizzlies is growing the population in neighbouring districts with more robust populations. Once this is accomplished, preserving key habitat corridors that enable migration between sub-populations can bring much-needed genetic diversity to the more isolated groups.

An encouraging example comes from the Squamish-Lillooet sub-population where the population seems to be stabilizing in large part due to decreasing industrial activity in the Toba-Bute region which has proven a boon to local grizzlies.

Grizzlies on the shores of Toba Inlet, part of the growing Toba-Bute sub-population, August 2015. Photo: Jeff Slack

Mother grizzly with cub (a second cub is off-screen) on the shores of Toba Inlet, part of the growing Toba-Bute sub-population, August 2015. Photo: Jeff Slack

Another positive development has been the growing support from Sea-to Sky local governments to encourage higher levels of government into implementing and acting upon a regional grizzly recovery plan. If all goes well, grizzly sightings in our surrounding wilderness could become more frequent in the near future.

The return of these large apex carnivores will not be without controversy, and the success of such efforts will greatly rely on cooperation and support from the general public. Avoiding grizzlies altogether is best, but Claire also emphasized how the single most important step one can take to ensure potential grizzly-human interactions remain mutually beneficial is to carry bear spray. Studies repeatedly indicate that bear spray is a more effective deterrent than firearms, and of course a non-lethal solution is always preferable.

For more info on best practices during bear encounters, check out this page from  the Get Bear Smart Society.

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, near Whistler Mountain ca. 1916.

A Bear Named Slumber

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Come out to Florence Petersen Park this Wednesday night to experience a slideshow and presentation by local bear expert Michael Allen about one of his favourite Whistler bears, Slumber.

Photograph by Michael Allen

Photograph by Michael Allen

The event starts at 9pm, and is free to attend. Be sure to bring a chair/blanket to sit on, and enjoy this journey into the world of Slumber.

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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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).

A Bear, a Cougar and a Boisterous Myrtle Philip

Every now and then a long term and frequent visitor of Whistler will grace us with their stories of this valley’s past. Gordon Cameron is one such character. As a young man, Gordon (also known as G.D.) would spend summers at Alta Lake with his family. A few years ago, Gordon wrote two letters to the museum outlining some fascinating stories from his childhood here in Whistler. One story he recalls involves a cougar, a bear, and a boisterous Myrtle Philip.

Alta Lake from Rainbow Lodge, 1944. Photograph by G.D. Cameron. Philip Collection.

Alta Lake from Rainbow Lodge, 1944. Photograph by G.D. Cameron. Philip Collection.

Firstly, to paint a better picture of Gordon and Myrtle’s relationship, Gordon explains Myrtle’s unorthodox method of teaching a young G.D. how to ride a horse. Basically, Myrtle tied Gordon’s feet together underneath the horse’s belly and let boy and animal be! The horse reluctantly traipsed around Alta Lake with the boy strapped firmly astride for most of the day, until it finally managed to shake loose the ties and buck the young Gordon into the River of Golden Dreams.

Myrtle with saddle horse and workhorse, ca. 1915. Philip Collection.

Myrtle with saddle horse and workhorse, ca. 1915. Philip Collection.

In 1934, a few years after Gordon’s unconventional horseback riding lesson, Gordon and some other boys in the area were recruited by Myrtle to fix a trail that often flooded in high run-off years. The crew got to work slashing the bushes to make the trail wider, while one of the boys held the horses. All of a sudden, one horse bolted; everyone stopped to see what was happening only to observe that just down the trail was a mean looking black bear sniffing the wind. The crew turned to their escape route and had the unpleasant sight of a large tawny cougar stalking towards them. Whilst the boys were scrambling their thoughts into some sort of action, a “whoop and a holler” was heard coming up the trail “in a slightly off-key feminine voice that would have curdled the milk.” Faced with such a vision, the bear took off straight up the mountain and the cougar took one look at the apparition coming charging down the trail and disappeared. Myrtle was so mad, she let off steam in a language that was certainly not “ladies chit-chat.”

Myrtle on a white horse, ca. 1940. Philip Collection.

Myrtle on a white horse, ca. 1940. Philip Collection.

As if we didn’t have reason enough to adore Myrtle and her courageous ways!

The Bears are Up!

Over the past two weeks, my social media newsfeeds and photo streams have been blowing up with posts and images of bear sightings here in Whistler. Ah, it is that time again, isn’t it? With the first signs of post-hibernation being on the very last day of March when a few Instagram posts of paw prints in stale snow surfaced.

Pioneer Myrtle Philip holding Teddy the bear, 1926. Philip Collection.

Myrtle Philip holding Teddy the bear, ca. 1925. Philip Collection.

With each new bear sighting comes varying emotions: some people feel fear, others joy, and for many uncertainty. Whistler locals love sharing their bear stories, often suggesting that black bears are generally quite harmless to humans. One local, Colin Pitt-Taylor, claims he accidentally cycled into a black bear; Colin leaving the scene unharmed, and the bear leaving seemingly unfazed. Another local and avid golfer, Colin Gower, claims to have come rather close to numerous bears along the Nicklaus North golf course. This is no surprise, as black bears have settled into our golf courses, ski hills and parks (even though they’ve inhabited Whistler long before us humans decided to move in).

Today, most Whisterlites have a high level of respect for bears, and in fact, bears have been held in such high regard as far back as we can trace. Archaeological evidence suggests that bear worship (also known as Bear Cult or Arctolary) may have been a common practice among Neanderthals in the Palaeolithic periods. Bear worship did not stop there. To name a few examples: Celts believed bears to be incarnations of the goddess Artio, the Ainu people of northern Japan considered the bear to be the head of the gods, and First Nations throughout North America honour the bear with costumes, masks and images carved on totems.

Photograph by Michael Allen.

Photograph by Michael Allen.

It is clear that bears have been admired by humans throughout history, but even still, when pioneers came to settle here they began hunting and slaughtering bears, exploring new territory and clearing land for their homes. Grizzlies were virtually exterminated from the Canadian Plains and the western United States, and at this time, bears were generally regarded as human-eating monsters – a much different take on bears than our archaic predecessors might have reasoned.

Thankfully by the twentieth century, public perceptions of bears began to shift. Laws limiting hunting were enacted and residents of national parks realized the importance of coexistence. However, at this time, bears were often used as amusement; tourists would feed them and gather around the centrally located garbage dump to watch as bears fed on our waste.

Bears in the garbage dump (future site of Whistler Village), ca. 1965. Petersen Collection.

Bears in the garbage dump (future site of Whistler Village), ca. 1965. Petersen Collection.

Jump to the present day and we seem to have greatly improved on this coexistence thing. Laws and regulations have been enforced to protect bears, further limiting hunting and keeping our food and waste secured in bear-proof bins and depots. Most Whisterites and visitors have adopted a deep level of respect for our approximate 100 black bear residents, understanding these ursine beauties as independent beings, crucial to our ecosystem.

Alex Philip holds Teddy the bear, 1926. Philip Collection.

Alex Philip holds Teddy the bear, 1926. Philip Collection.

So, should we be frightened by our thick-furred residents as they appear from their long, winter slumbers? Statistically speaking, you’re more likely to be killed by a domestic dog, bees or lightning than killed by a bear. In fact, no one has ever been killed by a bear in Whistler. Furthermore, one in 35,000 grizzly bears and only one in 100,000 black bears will kill a human. As Sylvia Dolson and Katherine Fawcett describe in their book A Whistler Bear Story, bears are “gentle, with the capacity to be fierce,” “entertaining and playful, yet capable of killing,” and “your favourite cuddly stuffed animal, morphed into a massive body with sharp teeth and long claws.”

While it is true that most run-ins with bears have proven harmless, it is important to stay safe and know proper bear safety. Visit http://www.bearsmart.com/ for a great resource on how to be bear-smart!