Many decades ago, the inspiring Indian leader Gandhi told people to "practice elementary compassion towards our fellow creatures."
This pretty much sums up Sylvia Dolson's approach to bears and her desire to have humans live in harmony and respect with them.
Dolson, the executive director of Whistler's education and awareness group Get Bear Smart Society, has used the Mahatma's comment in her new coffee table book of bear photos and uplifting quotes called The Joy of Bears. His words stand alongside those of Buddha, Thoreau, Harriet Beecher Stowe and even Aristotle.
"It's meant to be one of those books that you pick up when you need some inspiration or a lift, just a feel-good book. It's meant to bring joy, hence the title!" she said.
Whistler became the fourth Bear Smart community in British Columbia in 2011. "We're always working to overcome people's fear of bears and replace that with a healthy respect for bears. Replace misunderstanding with understanding. Those are the goals of all of our programs," said Dolson.
The proceeds from sales will go to Bear Smart programming in Whistler. Those ongoing educational programs, both for locals and international visitors, need continuous funding and Dolson is kept very busy. Plans include a new "Bear Smart Restaurant" program for training the resort's restaurant staff which is to be launched in July, an enhanced social media program, and weekly "Bear Tips" being provided by Whistler's host program.
"You can never rest on your laurels, not in Whistler, not anywhere," she said.
Dolson has been delivering copies to locations around Whistler and she already has an impressive backlog of orders waiting for its publication. "I have 1,103 pre-ordered sales on the website and it's going to be distributed around North America," Dolson said.
The Joy of Bears is Dolson's third book on bruins, following Bear-ology: Fascinating Bear Facts, Tales and Trivia and A Whistler Bear's Story. There are over 100 images of black bears, grizzlies and polar bears with "virtually all of the black bears photographed in Whistler." She was particularly grateful that most of the photographers donated their images to the project, waiving their fees.
Dolson started putting The Joy of Bears together in the fall of 2012, and it was made possible with donations from The Community Foundation of Whistler and the Vancouver Foundation.
"It was a huge amount of work and it was percolating in my mind for many years. I'm a photographer and I had my eye on other photos as well and kept them in a file, along with beautiful quotes. I kept it all for the day I could start working on the book," she said.
The book is self-published, with a first run of 5,000.
As for the current state of Whistler's bears, their numbers are down, in large part due to bears being hit by cars on the Sea to Sky Highway in recent years rather than human-bear conflict over attractants like garbage and bird seed or landscaped plants. It's hard to tell how many bears are killed on the highway since the Conservation Officer Service only keeps records of bears they shoot.
"The overall population is quite down. We used to say there was between 100 and 120 bears. Now I am saying 50-plus and I am wondering if I am being generous with that, maybe after the cubs of the year come in we can say that," Dolson said.
"Bears have been shot because of conflict for many years, but that stat has gone down. What's gone up is the number of bears killed in motor vehicle accidents. Ever since that highway was improved for the Olympics, people drive faster, it has more lanes, concrete barriers it's hard for bears — particularly cubs — to make it all the way across."
Another problem Dolson said is clover, which was planted by the highway to create greenery following the construction. It attracts the bears, which love to eat it, leading to greater risk of accidents.
The Joy of Bears is $19.95 and can be purchased online at www.bearsmart .com. It is also available at Armchair Book.
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