Whitehorse group to present findings of bear hazard assessment

Wildwise Yukon has finished its 'bear hazard assessment' of Whitehorse, and found that garbage is the biggest concern.

'Waste management is the elephant in the room,' says Wildwise Yukon

A black bear goes after garbage from a Whitehorse bin, in 2013. (Ken Knutson)

Whitehorse should find new ways to deal with its garbage to avoid more problems with bears, a recent study has found.

Local non-profit group Wildwise Yukon teamed up with the City of Whitehorse and the Environment Yukon last year to conduct a "bear hazard assessment" of the city — essentially, looking at where in the city human-bear conflicts are more likely to happen, and why.

The group will present its findings at a public event this week at the Whitehorse library.

"I wouldn't say there were any big surprises," said Heather Ashthorn of Wildwise Yukon. "We know that waste management is the elephant in the room."

A bear trap used by Yukon conservation officers to re-locate problem bears.

The report analyzes where bears have been sighted around the city in recent years, and where there have been problems (ransacked garbage bins, raided chicken coops, bears being moved or killed by wildlife officials). It also looked at which areas are close to prime bear habitat.

The goal was to rank "which neighbourhoods pose the greatest risk" of a bear encounter, Ashthorn said. 

Downtown area, Hidden Valley School 'high risk'

According to the data, the downtown and Copper Ridge neighbourhoods are where bear encounters are most likely, while Valleyview and Marwell were deemed some of the lowest-risk residential areas.

The report also looked at schools and campgrounds.

Hidden Valley School scored the highest "hazard ranking," while Golden Horn Elementary scored the lowest. Among city campgrounds, the Robert Service Campground downtown was deemed highest risk, while the High Country RV Park scored lowest.

Hidden Valley School, just off the North Klondike Highway, scored the highest 'hazard ranking' for schools in Whitehorse, when it comes to bears. (Google)

The report makes several recommendations, the main one being that the City of Whitehorse look for a bear-proof waste management system, possibly including latching garbage bins. It also recommends replacing wooden garbage boxes (as seen at some homes and community buildings) with bear-resistant metal boxes.

Other recommendations include a city bylaw that could restrict or control attractants, such as bird feeders and fruit trees, and new bear-proof lockers at campgrounds, especially the Robert Service campground, where most campers are in tents.

According to the report, the vast majority of human-bear conflicts in Whitehorse involve black bears and only about 15 per cent involve grizzlies. Encounters typically begin to happen in April each year, and peak in June or July.

Ashthorn said the early spring weather means people have already been seeing bears for weeks.

"They are up, they are undoubtedly hungry, and it's a good reminder to step up our vigilance," she said.

The Bear Hazard Assessment report will be presented at a public meeting Tuesday at noon at the Whitehorse Public Library. 

With files from A New Day