The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is currently leading a project to develop a Grizzly Bear-Human Conflict Mitigation Strategy along with the Conservation Officer Service (COS) and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRORD).
The strategy is expected to be finalized in the summer of 2019 and will include both:
- conflict mitigation strategies, and
- a grizzly bear response plan.
Existing trail use will continue for 2019, while the agencies focus on gathering more information on trail use, habitat, emerging issues and any further bear conflicts.
In the event of bear conflicts, at its discretion the Province continues to be empowered to close trails as needed.
Grizzly bears and black bears live in valley and alpine areas in Whistler.
With increased visitation and access to Whistler’s Alpine Trail Network, it has become clear that a strategy is required to protect grizzly bears in their natural habitats and provide guidance for recreational users.
Grizzly bear recovery
The Province of B.C. has a commitment to recover grizzly bears in the Whistler region, although the recovery plan is not prepared yet. The Province is responsible for both grizzly bear recovery and public safety.
Both the RMOW and Squamish Lillooet Regional District passed resolutions in 2014 supporting grizzly bear recovery. The 2018 trail closures due to grizzly bear-human conflict precipitated development of this plan.
The Grizzly Bear-Human Conflict Mitigation Strategy is just one of several trails initiatives in progress related to the Alpine Trail Program.
Bear risk assessments
Bear risk assessments will continue in 2019 on trails including the Skywalk Trail network, Rainbow’s End and South Flank trail. The bear risk assessment recommendations will be included in the Grizzly Bear-Human Conflict Mitigation Strategy.
A bear risk assessment considers habitat quality, attractant management, and other factors to identify risks and recommend mitigation techniques.
In 2018, Wind River Bear Institute completed assessments on a number of trails, viewpoints, rest areas and campsites (existing and contemplated) on Mt. Sproatt.
The Trails Planning Working Group leads alpine trail planning initiatives in Whistler, which must be approved by Recreation Sites and Trails B.C., including review by a Ministry of Forests, Lands, Resource Operations and Rural Development Ecosystem Biologist and First Nations.
The vision for the Grizzly Bear-Human Conflict Mitigation Strategy is:
- Grizzly bears in the Sproatt/Rainbow alpine area are able to effectively utilize their natural habitats without conflict.
- Recreational users:
- are able to enjoy their recreational activities and also understand their roles and responsibilities in learning how to minimize disturbance and avoid encounters with grizzly bears and other wildlife; and
- will comply with necessary recommendations stemming from this strategy, if and when they are needed.
- This strategy is supported by provincial authorities and agencies and the public understands and supports these efforts.
- The strategy is used by municipal and provincial authorities and agencies who are responsible for the plan’s implementation.
Project objectives are to:
Identify actions to minimize:
- human interactions with grizzly bears on alpine trails
- impacts of recreation trail use on grizzly bear habitat and use patterns; and
- Develop a response plan.
The project area and zones include:
- Zone 1: Mount Sproatt
- Zone 2: Rainbow – 21 Mile Creek watershed
- Zone 3: Rainbow – 19 Mile Creek / Skywalk Trail
Grizzly Bear-Human Conflict Mitigation Strategies
The conflict mitigation strategies are organized into four areas:
- Public education and communication
- Planning and trail modifications
- Enforcement and restrictions
- Alpine Trail Ranger Program
Grizzly Bear Response Plan
A response plan was also prepared to provide direction in the event of grizzly bear sightings or conflict.
Similar to the black bear response plan developed in 2016, it lists various scenarios and identifies actions to be taken by the various organizations.
The grizzly bear response plan will be included in the 2019 RMOW Bear Response Plan to create one document that covers both grizzly and black bears. It will be used by RCMP, Bylaw Services, and Conservation Officer Service staff for training.
The planning team for this project includes:
- Resort Municipality of Whistler
- Ministry of Forest, Lands, Natural Resource Operations
- Recreation Sites and Trails BC
- B.C. Conservation Officer Service Contractor
- Grey Owl Consulting
Timeline and Engagement
In April 2019 a draft strategy was shared with:
- RMOW Senior Management Team and Council
- Recreation Sites and Trails BC
- B.C. Conservation Officer Service
- Whistler Bear Advisory Committee and Forest Wildland Advisory Committee
First Nations’ referrals are also in progress.
Feedback will be received from key agencies and stakeholders, and the strategy will be revised as needed.
It is anticipated that the strategy will be finalized and a work plan for recommendations will be developed this spring.