Jeanie and the photographer who called her a friend 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SYLVIA DOLSON - A year after Jeanie's death Syliva Dolson reflects on a bear who did much to educate and entertain Whistler visitors and residents.
  • Photo by Sylvia Dolson
  • A year after Jeanie's death Syliva Dolson reflects on a bear who did much to educate and entertain Whistler visitors and residents.

It's been a year since Jeanie the bear was shot and killed by conservation officers after it was decided that she had become a threat to people. There is no doubt that she pushed the limits of what was allowed last year, but when the news of her death broke the community was shocked and saddened that the bear that had taught all of us so much had died because people couldn't control their food stuffs. Dolson, of the Get Bear Smart Society, wrote this article about Jeanie before the bear's death — and on the anniversary of Jeanie's death Pique thought we should all remember Jeanie the way she was in life.

I sat in the deep wet grass, legs contorted and neck crooked, so that my camera could rest squarely on my left knee. My limbs were tingling from being awkwardly bent beneath me; monopod tucked under one leg and pushed against my body to minimize any vibration. The sun was in and out, wreaking havoc with my exposure settings. Thoughts of prioritizing my to-do list were colliding into thoughts of capturing some images before a dinner party for which I was sure to be late.

My subject, Jeanie, was being as cooperative as any bear could be. You see we had known each other for over 15 years at the time. She had come to recognize my voice and scent, and knew that I meant her no harm; often ignoring me completely. I have recorded her life history with hundreds of photographs over the years and she always posed dutifully as the magnificent icon that she is. The best and most joyous photos came in the form of family portraits. Cubs are so full of joy and wonder. I love to watch them play while they amuse themselves with whatever they can find — sticks, rocks, pinecones, and of course, mom. They climb all over mom, bouncing off her head, jumping on her back, rolling under her legs.

Often, when Jeanie had new cubs, she would grunt them down from their refuge tree to proudly show them off to me; she would stand to the side and hold her head up a little higher than normal as if to say, "Look at these little rascals; aren't they the cutest cubs you've ever seen?" When she was without cubs, as happened to be the case that year, she seemed to enjoy hanging out with me; usually sitting nearby munching on clover or dandelions, seemingly without a care in the world. On this particular day, even the passing golfers were of little interest to her.

While Jeanie did make frequent forays to the Whistler Golf Course in spring, her normal summer range encompassed the vast coastal hemlock and cedar forests on the north slope of Whistler Mountain and the south slope of Blackcomb. It's an area that has seen increased development and recreational activities over the past decade. Jeanie shared and the other bears continue to share their territory with ATVs, Hummers, construction workers and their heavy equipment, the Whistler Bike Park, and thousands of hikers and bear-watchers. Jeanie adapted well to the activity, and was very tolerant of humans. It was in part, her high tolerance that has allowed us to become well acquainted.

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