In 2015 A Bear Risk Assessment was completed for Yukon Place (Gilbert and Smith 2015). Following suit, the Whitehorse Bear Working Group commissioned a similar study for Whitehorse (Homstol and Edwards 2015), looking at potential risks to the human-bear system within the urban containment boundary. WildWise Yukon organized a multi-stakeholder workshop in the spring of 2016 to determine the relevance of recommendations that were made as part of the Whitehorse Bear Hazard Assessment. Improving access to education about the human-bear system was recommended in both documents and was highlighted as one of the possible immediate actions in the spring workshop.
Two bear hazard assessments have been completed within Whitehorse, including one for Yukon Place. Both are risk assessments which have identified a number of actions which, when taken, will reduce risk to both bears and humans. Some, such as considering bear-resistant waste management, may take time and multiple resources to enact. Others, such as providing educational opportunities, are easy wins and may be developed and tested immediately. Both bear hazard assessments identify areas where negative encounters between people and bears have occurred or are likely to occur and both recommend using signage at trail heads to inform trail users about safe travel through these areas.
Yukon College backs onto MacIntyre Creek and there have been several encounters with bears both on the trails and on campus over the past few years, resulting in the relocation and destruction of a number of bears. Students and staff are frequent trail users and the campus is home to many out of country students with limited English and/or French language proficiency and who may not have traveled in areas inhabited by bears in the past. The trails are also used by people traveling at high speed on bikes, running and listening to music, all activities which increase the risk of a surprise encounter with a bear. The trails are used much in the same manner as other trails around Whitehorse and the college system is a good study site which can be used to test the effectiveness of trail sign messaging and the student body a good resource to develop a final ‘product’ for use on trails all over Whitehorse.
The timeline for this project is relatively short. We would like to have test signs erected at the trailheads by the end of August, in time for the beginning of the start of the fall semester. This will allow RRM students to develop performance indicators and survey the trail using community over the course of their studies. WildWise will work with involved students and a design and layout consultant on the final product at the end of the school year and will aim to have the final product available by late spring, 2017.
From the acknowledgements in the summary report for the City of Whitehorse:
We thank the students in RRMT 202 for their feedback on the signs and Katie Aitken and Kelly Choy for sharing the questionnaires with their class. Erin Johnson provided help with administering the Yukon College funds. We thank Colleen Wirth from Student Services at Yukon College and the City of Whitehorse Environment Fund for financial support. We are also grateful for the support of our talented translators, Eric Jun Kim, Kaz Kuba, Babette Mueller and Alexandre Mischler.
And from the full report:
I received much help, guidance and support throughout this directed study. Foremost, I would like to thank Scott Gilbert for his direction, guidance, navigation through new Yukon College policy and for his mad editing skills; Andrew Smith for his contribution to the Bear Risk Assessment for Yukon Place which prompted this study; Sarah Nielsen and Hillarie Zimmerman for their time, expertise and advice; WildWise Yukon Board of Directors (Jennifer Smith, Angela Milani, Pam Brown, Wendy Nixon and Robin Hamilton) for being keen to contribute WildWise time; Doug Clarke for contributing material for the literature review and for shedding light on the gaps and opportunities in bear aware education; Anne-Marie Jim and Babbette Mueller for technical support; the Yukon College Review Ethics Board for their expeditious approval; the 125 survey participants who gave time, insight and data; Larry Grey and Katie Aitken for distributing the survey; ENVS students for helping with survey design; and the many others who, unknowingly, contributed their expertise. Many thanks.