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Be Beary Awarey: Bear Awareness & Safety Tips

I am pleased to say we are graced with another fantastic post by Maddy Kwan!

Hey backcountry beauties! Spring has sprung and though the weather may suggest otherwise, the bears have woken up from their wintery slumber, hangry and frisky! Do not panic! The outdoors is still safe and accessible; we just need to remember to be bear aware. Recently I got the opportunity to participate in a Bear Safety clinic through work (MEC- Mountain Equipment Co-op), we were educated in the difference between black and grizzly bears, different behaviors, how to navigate an encounter for each behavior, bear encounter prevention and how to successfully deploy bear spray. I wanted to share some of this bear awareness knowledge and hopefully break down some of the fear that surrounds this topic.

As dangerous as they are, bears should not be an excuse that stops you from experiencing the outdoors but it is vital to respect them and the space they call home. Here’s some prevention and encounter tips:

Facts

  • Bears can run up to 50km/hr uphill and downhill
  • They can climb trees, both black bears and grizzlies
  • They are opportunistic omnivores
  • Incredible sense of smell and hearing
  • They will defend their personal space; especially if it feels trapped/cornered
  • Females (sows) will defend their cubs
  • More bears die from human interference than humans die from bears.
  • Bear bells are NOT effective

Encounter Prevention Tips:

  • Travel in groups, the larger and louder the better.
  • If you own a portable speaker play your music as you hike, but be conscious of the people around you, not everyone likes escaping to the outdoors to listen to Lady Gaga.
  • Sing or call out loudly “HEY BEAR” often or when you see a bend or a opening in the trail. Meadows are common with berry bushes meaning a bear could be hanging out.
  • If you’re super concerned about your food smelling, I suggest investing in a Pelican hard case. It helps to conceal the smell, and keeps your food from spilling all over your pack. NOTE: bears have extraordinary sense of smell so they will still be able to smell your food but it will be reduced.
  • Carry bear bangers. If you think you see a bear in the distance or believe there to be a bear in the near vicinity (i.e.; fresh fecal matter or tracks), deploy a banger.  NOTE: bangers are intended as a long distance scare tactic to move a bear away from the intended direction of travel, it is not suggested to use during a close encounter as a deployed banger could send the bear running in your direction.
  • Everyone in the hiking party should carry a can of bear spray.
  • Leave no trace (read this trail etiquette post for more detail), and if you see garbage on the trail, even if it’s not yours, pick it up. The less we leave behind the better the bears will benefit.

STEP #1: Signs of a nearby bear

  • Shredded dead trees/ stumps, up rooted ground; bears will open up decomposing trees or dig into the ground to find bugs/ worms
  • Large scratch marks or bark removed from living trees
  • Bear scat (fecal matter, poop)

Scat

STEP #2: Identify your bear; Black Bears VS. Grizzly Bears

The color of the bear can be misleading and is not an appropriate means of determining the breed of bear you have encountered. Knowing what breed of bear will determine your reaction in a close encounter.

Bears-black-grizz-Distinctive-Features

STEP #3: Identify your Bear’s Behaviour

Understanding a bear’s behavior and adjusting your body language to that behavior could mean life or death in the event of an encounter.

Habituation: Bears who have become acclimatized to humans and tolerate them; they do not fear them but they remain indifferent to their presence; neither a positive or negative.

Food Conditioned Bears: The bear is willing to subject itself to the presence of humans because it is attracted to human populated areas due to human food/ garbage that is present. Bears will become aggressive, bold, and destructive. This is negative and will lead to the death of the bear, if relocation is unsuccessful. 

Defensive: When the bear is startled or surprised and feels threatened. They don’t want to attack as it could put them at risk of injury or death, they may bluff charge (run towards you and stop- scare tactic).

DO

  • Remain calm, move slowly, and talk in a low gentle voice (you can say to the bear what you are doing, apologize, etc)
  • Avoid eye contact
  • Check your surroundings for cubs as well as a route of escape for both yourself and the bear, you do NOT want to corner or startle the bear.
  • Back up slowly and have your hand ready to grab and deploy your spray in the event of a bluff charge or attack

Predatory:  A bear that has been stalking or has determined that the present human will be its next meal. These bears are extremely rare but very dangerous as they are attacking with the intention to kill you.

DO

  • Remain calm
  • Get BIG, stand on something if you can, unzip your rain coat and spread it out, the goal is to be bigger and more intimidating
  • Avoid eye contact
  • Have your spray can in your hands ready to be deployed
  • If you become desperate, you could deploy a bear banger but aim behind you so that you scare the bear away from you. Never point the bear banger at the bear, it will explode behind the bear, scaring it towards you.
  • If you are attacked, lay on your stomach and cover your neck, this will assist in protecting your organs, as the front of your body is soft tissue and your back is protected by your bones. If the bear tries to roll you over, try your best to roll back onto your stomach, and pray.

STEP#4: Share the bear

If you see or have a close encounter with a bear, inform other hikers you meet along the trail and most importantly, contact the park warden as soon as you can. The wardens ensure a safe and healthy cohabitation between humans and bears.

Bears shouldn’t be a reason to stay hidden inside! Follow these helpful tips, be aware and be prepared (as you always should be when out in the backcountry) and you’ll have a safe a successful outdoor adventure! For those interested in learning more about bears and having a safe bear encounter, I highly recommend going to visit Boo the grizzly bear at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort; the world’s largest enclosed grizzly bear habitat.

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