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Grizzly bear sighting near Whistler gives hope for recovery of species in southwest B.C.

Sep 08. 15

By Larry Pynn
The Vancouver Sun

The sighting of a grizzly bear with at least one cub near Whistler is cause for optimism for the species’ future in southwest B.C. but is also a warning to hikers to exercise caution in the backcountry.

Squamish resident Richard MacKellar was hiking with a group recently in high-country meadows about 15 kilometres from Whistler when they first observed a black bear near the trail and then a grizzly with one and potentially two cubs. He managed to get some photos of the “spectacular” animals before his group moved away.

Johnny Mikes, field coordinator for the Coast to Cascades Grizzly Bear Initiative, said the survival of every female grizzly and cub is vital to the recovery of the species in the area. He noted that local governments from Squamish to Lillooet have passed resolutions supporting grizzly bear recovery.

“The wonderful experience of seeing a grizzly bear in the wild will gradually become more frequent as their numbers bounce back and the number of backcountry trails grows,” he said, adding: “It’s increasingly important to learn how to travel safely in bear country.”

He encouraged hikers to make ample noise so bears can hear your approach especially near rustling branches or a rushing stream, and to pay attention to whether the wind is carrying your scent to or from a potential bear or if you are walking through patches of ripe berries. Keep a can of pepper spray handy on your belt or pack strap. Spray has been shown to be the best way to deter an attack, he advised.

A 2012 report by the provincial government estimated there are 15,075 grizzly bears, a species of special concern, in B.C. In areas of southwest B.C. grizzly numbers are especially depressed, including 59 in Squamish-Lillooet, 24 in Stein-Nahatlatch; six in the North Cascades; and two in Garibaldi-Pitt.

Greig Bethel, spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, said more than 20 grizzly bears were recently fitted with radio collars and are being monitored to learn more about core habitat, behaviour and movement.

Government conservation efforts in recent years have included an 8,000-hectare timber harvesting land base allowance for grizzly bear habitat in the Lillooet timber supply area and 14 seasonal road closures under the Wildlife Act specifically located to protect grizzly bears’ spring habitat, and the establishment of numerous wildlife habitat areas for grizzly bears in the Squamish forest district.

Dan Gerak of Pitt River Lodge complains that continued logging of grizzly habitat in the upper Pitt is putting that area’s fragile population at ever-greater risk as well as degrading the scenic value of his ecotourism business. “The entire river is used by guests hiking and fishing and the sound of a heli operation will have a severe impact on my business and my ability to offer a wilderness retreat,” he said.

The Sun is not revealing the exact location where the grizzlies were observed in the Whistler area due to the potential for large numbers of people harassing them — or worse. In 2013, a Squamish man was fined $10,000 for illegally shooting a mature male grizzly near Pemberton.

Anyone who spots a grizzly is encouraged to keep the exact location off social networking sites.

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