Posted by: Feet Banks
Everyone loves bears. They’ve captured our imagination since the cave-man days and so many of us grew up with stuffed bears in our cribs. From children’s books to Hollywood films to nature television specials it seems us humans just can’t get enough bears.
All photos by Sylvia Dolson
And neither can Whistler’s Sylvia Dolson. A lover and researcher of local black bears for nearly 20 years, Sylvia’s just released Joy of Bears, a book of photographs and inspiration celebrating bears and the wilderness they live in.
“My goal with all my books is to build deeper caring and more respect for bears,” Sylvia explains. “And to educate people - Bears are a very misunderstood animal and I really want to help people overcome their misconceptions and understand the true nature of bears.”
Sylvia arrived in Whistler in 1996 after living/traveling in a motor home for two years with her husband and two cats and was almost instantly drawn into the local bear conservation efforts.
“I loved Whistler because it had a real cosmopolitan feel but was still a small town,” she says of her initial days in the valley. “We needed to find a place to live and jobs so I grabbed the local paper and the cover story was about a ‘garbage bear’ being destroyed in the Village. Coming from Toronto I didn’t understand anything about that.”
So Sylvia volunteered with what was then called the Jennifer Jones Whistler Bear Foundation and began a lifelong love affair with the animals. These days she’s the director of the Get Bear Smart Society, an organization dedicated to education and non-lethal bear management.
“I’m in the office a lot now,” Sylvia says, “but I’ve spent a lot of evenings photographing the bears. I’d just grab my camera and head up the mountain. Over the years I built relationships with certain bears that allowed me the privilege to photograph them doing regular bear things. My goal is to always capture the real essence of the bears and let their individual personalities shine through.”
Those personalities certain shine in Joy of Bears. Sylvia’s local bear photos are interspersed with words of wisdom, from herself and others, as well as shots of bears from all over the continent.
“Bears have enriched my life beyond measure,” Sylvia says. “They’ve given me the opportunity to spend more time in the woods. To have that personal experience and witness them first hand is fascinating. If people can take away anything from my book I just want them to understand that we are just one animal in the landscape. We tend to think we are above the ecosystem but we are not. We are inextricably linked to all of the wilderness and its inhabitants and we need to take that into account if we want a future for our children.”
Sylvia Dolson’s Bear Essentials: Four things to know and do
1. “Bears are wild animals. Keep a distance of at least 100 yards and absolutely do not intentionally feed bears to get a photograph.”
2. “Be careful with your garbage and recycling. Bears are attracted to anything that has food residue or smells on it. Empty bottles, coffee cups, candy wrappers, banana peels will all attract bears and bring them into conflict with people. If that happens a bear will most often pay with its life.”
3. Watch for bears on the highway. They are drawn to the clover that was planted there to keep the roadsides green. More and more bears are being hit by cars and if you pull over to look at a bear there is a chance you may be hit as well.”
4. “Take a bear viewing tour. It’s a great way to see bears and the guides teach safe practices and will pass on great stories, history and knowledge.”
Sylvia’s book, Joy of Bears, is available at Armchair Books in Whistler as well as many other outlets including Amazon.com and Chapters/Indigo. You can also go directly to the source and get it from the Get Bear Smart Society. All proceed go back to the bears.
You can also sign up for a bear viewing tour at Whistler.com and check out Insider editor Feet Bank’s tour experience in the video below.