The Get Bear Smart Society is a collaboration of staff, board members, advisors, partners and supporters in British Columbia and across North America. Together, we are helping to create a paradigm shift in people’s attitudes toward bears, which will allow bears and people to coexist in harmony.
Staff and Contractors
Get Bear Smart has one part-time seasonal staff member, several contractors and more than a few volunteers who work together to implement the organization’s strategic plan (i.e. make sure the work gets done).
Click on the appropriate links below to learn more about Get Bear Smart’s board members, advisors, partners and supporters.
Sylvia Dolson - Executive Director
Sylvia has been involved with the Get Bear Smart Society since 1996. She has been a key player in establishing Whistler as the province’s leading Bear Smart community and plans to expand the Society’s many educational and training programs throughout British Columbia and beyond.
In 1997 she became a director and co-chair of Whistler’s Black Bear Task Team, which established and implemented a Black Bear Management Plan for the municipality of Whistler, B.C. The plan was developed to minimize human-bear conflicts through effective waste management, extensive educational programs, rigorous enforcement and a non-lethal bear management program.
She was the major catalyst in building partnerships and alliances with key stakeholders. She has worked diligently to ensure bear-friendly management policies and to bear-proof Whistler’s waste management system. She continues to advocate on behalf of bears and acts as the watchdog to ensure policies and management actions reflect the bear’s best interests.
As the executive director of GBS, Sylvia is responsible for overseeing day-to-day activities and maintaining the direction of the Society so that its mandate, goals and objectives are realized. She also participates in numerous workshops throughout B.C. as a speaker and provides consultations to other bear aware groups and communities interested in becoming BearSmart.
She has authored many educational materials, including a non-lethal bear management training manual – Responding to Human-Bear Conflicts – that has been used as a reference by police officers and wildlife agencies throughout North America. In addition to her books A Whistler Bear Story and BEAR~OLOGY: Fascinating Bear Facts, Tales & Trivia, Joy of Bears was recently released.
As a wildlife photographer and freelance writer, Sylvia spends most of her free time in the company of bears, observing and photographing their natural behaviour in the wild.
Although Sylvia’s formal education provided her with an Honours Degree in Business Administration from the University of Western Ontario, her passion and commitment lie in animal welfare and protection. Her vision is for a greater coexistence — one in which people and bears live in harmony.
Nicole Fitzgerald - Whistler Program Coordinator and Communications Officer
An award-winning journalist, Nicole was first introduced to the problems Whistler bears face living within urban settings in 2004 when she wrote a series of articles on the topic for The Vancouver Sun and The Province as well as Pique Newsmagazine.
Her concern and curiousity about Whistler’s black bears grew when the documentary filmmaker later moved on to work for Shaw Media as a producer and television host in Whistler and Vancouver. Her stories aired locally and nationally on Shaw as well as on Global BC1.
During this time, Nicole began to work more closely with the Get Bear Smart Society, volunteering her time to produce and consult on educational videos. She also contributed to programming initiatives such as the Bear Smart Restaurant Program.
She now represents Get Bear Smart on the Whistler Bear Advisory Committee, which includes community groups such as the Resort Municipality of Whistler, Conservation Officer Service, RCMP and Whistler Blackcomb. Nicole’s goal is to be a voice for the bears, standing up for their best interests.
When Nicole isn’t busy with bears and her family, she is a freelance writer and creative writing student. She is excited to get new educational programming on the ground as well as build on the success of past initiatives. The English major was a middle school teacher for five years on Vancouver Island. She was also a student with the Theatre in Education Program at the University of Victoria – a program that explores how to use creative tactics when approaching school subjects to optimize engagement.
Over her 15 years of reporting and living in black bear country, Nicole has developed a deep sense of awe and respect for these amazing animals, which she is fortunate enough to encounter regularly on her morning runs or evening road rides.
Ainslie Willock – President and Director of Educational Programs
Ainslie’s persistent hard work and dedication to animals is surpassed only by her passion as their advocate. Having spent time in the company of wild blacks, grizzlies and polar bears, she has been fortunate to experience the true nature of bears.
She has worked with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Canada), Animal Protection Institute (now Born Free USA), Toronto Humane Society (Canadian Anti-Fur Alliance), Animal Alliance of Canada (Bear Alliance) and the Humane Society of the United States (Canadians for Bears). Having worked for a number of years as a City Councillor’s Assistant she gained valuable experience of how decisions are made in the political arena.
Ainslie organized the first non-lethal human-bear conflict workshops for First Responders in Prince Rupert, Ottawa and Sudbury.
An early promoter of Bear Cub Rescue, Care and Release, she’s pleased that more injured and orphaned bears get a second chance at life in the wild.
She graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Bachelor of Environmental Studies (Honours) degree.
Wayne McCrory – Vice President and Director of Research
Wayne McCrory is a professional biologist and ecosystem research expert who specializes in bears. He has worked on numerous government and private bear studies throughout western Canada, including 15 national and provincial parks. He served for three years on the B.C. government’s grizzly bear scientific advisory committee, and he was a public advisor on a committee formed by the B.C. Wildlife Branch to draft interim grizzly bear management guidelines for the Kootenay Boundary Land Use Plan.
As one of the original founders of the Valhalla Wilderness Society, Wayne’s career as a bear conservationist began with a campaign to protect the Valhalla Range, which was successful in 1983. He went on to spearhead the drive to save the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary (1993) and the White Grizzly (Goat Range) Park (1995). Collectively, these areas represent almost half a million acres of protected habitats for bears in both the Interior and Coastal Temperate Rainforests.
In 2006, the BC government and First Nations announced protection of some 265,000 ha of spirit bear habitat in 11 different conservancies, the successful culmination of 15 years of research and campaigning by McCrory and his colleagues at the Valhalla Society.
At this time, significant protection was also added to the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary. As a result of McCrory-VWS research, in 2014 Chilcotin First Nations established the 230,000 Dasiqox-Taseko Tribal Park, which included 10,000 ha of whitebark pine forests where grizzly bears eat pine nuts in the fall as a break from their normal diet of salmon. The new Tribal Park also includes the Brittany Triangle where McCrory heads research on wild horse and wolves. Currently, McCrory and Valhalla are working on additional wilderness protection of important bear ecosystems including Green Inlet and Gribbell Island on the coast as well as two two large wilderness proposals (Selkirk Mountain Caribou Park and Quesnel Lake Conservancy) in the Inland Temperate Rainforest (see www.vws.org).
McCrory teaches outdoor bear safety and bear viewing guides courses and guides and advises many film crews for bear and wild horse documentaries. He also has published numerous reports on bear ecology and conservation, as well as bear hazard studies and conflict management plans in many parks and communities, which help to minimize conflicts between people and bears. He has also carried out numerous environmental impact assessments, including the impacts of clear-cut logging and roads on bears and other wildlife. He has published or co-authored seven scientific papers and over 70 technical reports.
Dan LeGrandeur – Director of Training, Bear Aversion and Bear Safety
A former B.C. conservation officer for 12 years, Dan gained considerable experience in managing human-bear conflicts. Dan was a member of Whistler’s Black Bear Task Team. He has worked in a wide range of environments – from the urban areas of North and West Vancouver to the coastal and rural areas of southwest B.C. – and as a result has gained extensive experience dealing with a wide variety of conflict situations (farming/ranching, urban areas, remote camps) involving both blacks and grizzlies.
His knowledge in all aspects of human-bear conflicts includes educational training (creating Bear Smart communities, bear safety, etc.) and trapping, tranquilizing and relocating bears. Dan is a qualified firearms instructor and has considerable experience conducting training courses and public speaking. In 1999, Dan implemented Canada’s first non-lethal bear management program in Whistler.
Dan owns and operates BEAR sCARE, a highly successful company that specializes in training people in the use of non-lethal methods to prevent human-wildlife conflicts. Training courses vary from non-lethal bear management training for law enforcement and wildlife managers to safety-oriented training for those working or recreating in bear country.
Dan is the chief training instructor for the Get Bear Smart Society. Other clients include the RCMP, Resort Municipality of Whistler, the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, B.C. Forest Service, Humane Society of the United States, BC Hydro, Telus Mobility, Halliburton Energy Services and Suncor Energy.
Dan worked as a Directed Field Studies Instructor in the Conservation and Enforcement program at the Lethbridge Community College. He was a guest speaker at the 2003 New Jersey Black Bear Conference and testified at the New Jersey State Senate Environmental Commission Hearings regarding human-bear conflicts.
Click here for more information on Dan’s non-lethal bear management and bear safety courses.
Ellie Archer - Director of Community Outreach
Ellie was born and raised in rural southern Alberta with the magnificent Rocky Mountain range at her door step. On foot or by horseback, she was drawn to explore the wild places that beckoned her from a young age. Today, she uses her love of nature, compassion and deep understanding of bear behaviour to introduce others to the wilderness. For several months each year, she works with lodges in the interior and on the coast of British Columbia, to guide both locals and people from abroad to witness and experience the true nature of bears. In her role as a bear viewing guide, she has an opportunity to correct the long history of misconceptions, fears, and inaccurate language used to describe these animals.
In a remote community, in the Bella Coola Valley, she worked as WildsafeBC’s Bear Aware coordinator. Her goal was to establish a greater level of awareness, acceptance and appreciation for bears and the land the people shared with them. Ellie uses these experiences to help other communities transform human-bear conflict into coexistence. She believes that when people learn about these gentle, polite animals, that greater understanding motivates them to protect bears.
Ellie is a canine handler of a search and rescue dog named Nan and assists the renowned North Shore Rescue Team. Together, they are members of the British Columbia Search Dog Association.
As a wildlife bronze artist specializing in bears, Ellie has another outlet for her passion and advocacy for bears. She is honoured to have her work displayed in the renowned Mountain Gallery in Whistler.
She’s is also honored to be a director of the North Shore Black Bear Society and the newly formed Grizzly Bear Foundation.
The driving force of Ellie’s work is to help shift people’s attitudes towards embracing bears by building a better understanding through education on bears and bear behaviour.
Get Bear Smart is fortunate to have the support of several advisors who provide a broad range of expertise that helps to maintain and improve the quality of GBS’s programs.
Dr. John Beecham - Bear Biologist/Consultant
John has been involved in bear research and management since 1972. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Montana in 1980. He is a past president of the International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA) and has served that organization as a Council member, associate editor and newsletter editor.
John worked for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for over 29 years, including 12 years conducting research on black bears. During his years in the field as a research biologist, John designed and conducted research on black bear ecology in six geographic areas of Idaho and was responsible for capturing over 1,500 black bears and collecting information on their population dynamics, food habits, reproductive biology, denning ecology, movements, habitat use, and mortality factors.
He has published numerous scientific papers on bear ecology and bear rehabilitation methods, and co-authored, with Jeff Rohlman, a book entitled A Shadow in the Forest – Idaho’s Black Bear, which was published by the University of Idaho Press in 1994. He also has written numerous popular articles for Idaho Wildlife magazine and appeared in several television documentaries about his work with bears. During the last 15 years of his career with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game,
John supervised the wildlife research program for the state and was the state-wide program manager for black bear, cougar, moose, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats.
John has been involved in rehabilitating and releasing black bears in Idaho, participating in the release of over 200 orphaned black bears over the years. He recently completed a white paper entitled “Orphan Bear Cubs – Rehabilitation and Release Guidelines.” He continues to work as a consultant on efforts to release orphan bears back to the wild in the U.S. and other countries, and on human-bear conflict issues in Turkey.
Lori Homstol - Wildlife Biologist, bear behaviour and human-bear conflict
Lori Homstol is a wildlife biologist based in Bella Coola, BC who specializes in human-bear conflict mitigation. Lori works with government and industry to reduce human-caused bear mortality, conducting bear hazard assessments and using aversive conditioning to increase bear wariness toward humans.
Lori began her career as a volunteer on the Eastern Slopes Grizzly Bear Project in Lake Louise, Alberta in 1995 while she was still an undergraduate at the University of Saskatchewan. By 1999, Lori’s interests had focused on human-wildlife conflict and she has since been contracted by a number of different agencies. Lori has worked with grizzly bears and black bears in Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon and Montana, as well as Asian black bears in Japan and Andean bears in Ecuador.
In 2005, Lori was hired to help the BC Ministry of Environment assess the efficacy of non-lethal bear management in Whistler, a project that became her Master of Science thesis at the University of Alberta. Her thesis was focused on applying theories of how animals learn to make non-lethal management more effective. She has a keen interest in bear behaviour, specifically how it relates to conflict with humans. Her Karelian Bear Dog, Sisko is often by her side contributing to the job at hand.
In addition to working with bears, she has also worked with a number of other wildlife species including small mammals, lynx, cougar, wolverine and wolves. She has also generously volunteered her time on bighorn sheep and mountain goat studies.
Dr. Benjamin Kilham — Bear behaviour and rehabilitator
A licensed bear rehabilitator, naturalist and author, Benjamin Kilham raises orphaned black bear cubs and releases them back into the wild.
Rather than sticking the cubs in cages and avoiding contact, Kilham establishes a relationship with them without encouraging dependency. Kilham’s role as “mother bear” is not so much to teach the bears the ropes, but to provide the safety of a foster parent to protect them against danger while they find their own way in the world.
His methods are controversial. All conventional theory indicates that these cubs would become habituated to people. As radical as his plan is, The Kilham Black Bear Rehabilitation Center (an 8-acre forested enclosure) which his sister Phoebe and wife Debbie help him run, has rehabilitated and successfully released over 130 black bears back to the wild, not including those currently at the center. In the process he has learned much about how bears interact with each other and with humans.
Kilham has been studying black bear social behavior for close to 25 years and has written about his experiences in his latest book Out on a Limb: What black bears have taught me about intelligence and intuition and it’s paperback In The Company of Bears. His first book – Among the Bears: Raising Orphan Cubs in the Wild – is a heartwarming personal story of the bond between animals and humans. In addition to his latest film from National Geographic A Man Among Bears, Kilham has appeared in and taken part in the production of several other documentaries. His presentations have entertained thousands of ursophiles, with Kilham’s personal and passionate accounts illuminating the intimate lives of bears.
Carrie Hunt — Bear conflict and bear shepherding
Carrie Hunt is a bear biologist who has worked with government agencies and private groups around the world for over 30 years.
Hunt is known for her pioneering work in the area of human-bear conflict resolution, and in particular for her work on modifying wild bear behaviour through the use of repellents, deterrents and conditioning. She tested the use of the red pepper spray system that today is widely used to deter approaching bears. She also conducted the first investigations of aversively conditioning wild, free-ranging grizzly bears with so-called problem behaviours.
Hunt founded and directs the Wind River Bear Institute (WRBI) and its programs: the Partners-In-Life Program and Wind River Karelian Bear Dogs. Hunt developed the concept of ‘bear shepherding’ that simultaneously teaches humans to prevent conflicts and teaches so-called ‘problem’ bears to avoid humans and developed sites.
WRBI was the first group to use aversive conditioning to teach bears by pairing human voices with rubber bullets and barking dogs. These are the same modern training techniques that are used to train dolphins and dogs. WRBI has demonstrated through its work that bears do learn and retain this training.
Hunt also identified and developed the use of, and training methods for, Karelian bear dogs (KBDs) as wildlife service dogs to assist in bear conservation.
WRBI has successfully trained and used KBDs for bear shepherding since 1990.
Click here for more information on training KBDs.
Evelyn Kirkaldy — Design and artistic support
Evelyn is an exceptional fine artist, as well as an experienced graphic designer and illustrator with a background in advertising. Recently she earned her diploma as a wildlife technician. She has taught design, illustration and fine art to adults as well as children, but for the last 20 years, she has been especially passionate about teaching people about bears.
Evelyn’s design skills are regularly employed to create educational material for the Get Bear Smart Society. She wrote, illustrated and designed the educational activity book, Bear Smart Kids: A Book to Make You Smarter than the Average Bear, created an extensive collection of educational Bear Smart cartoons and illustrated the very popular book Bear-ology, written by Sylvia Dolson, executive director of the Get Bear Smart Society. Her extensive body of fine art includes dramatic and heartwarming images of bears and their natural habitat.
Evelyn has been teaching bear awareness since 1996. She began by giving bear safety workshops in various wilderness camps and served as camp bear safety coordinator with several outdoor organizations, including the Western Canada Wilderness Committee.
As a founding member and spokesperson of the North Shore Black Bear Task Team in North Vancouver, she was instrumental in the declaration of the first annual Bear Awareness Week in 2000, coordinating the week’s activities.
She also assisted the Village of Lion’s Bay’s Black Bear Task Team in launching their bear smart community plans and provided advice to several other lower mainland and BC communities for their initiatives. As a board member for the Society for Bear Protection and Relocation in West Vancouver, she served as spokesperson and director of education.
Evelyn currently lives in the Kootenays; as the chair of the Kootenay Chapter of the Get Bear Smart Society, she worked with city officials to launch Nelson’s first annual Bear Smart week in 2003. She currently coordinates the Slocan Valley Bear Smart Program for the Valhalla Wilderness Society.
Get Bear Smart ensures broad community participation by involving all stakeholders in the planning, management and implementation of our programs.
As a member of the Whistler’s Bear Advisory Committee, GBS actively works with the following organizations, businesses and government departments to help make Whistler a safer place for people and bears.
Our funding partners include: