Bear Smart in the Backcountry
"Those who have packed far up into grizzly country know that the presence of even one grizzly on the land elevates the mountains, deepens the canyons, chills the winds, brightens the stars, darkens the forest, and quickens the pulse of all who enter it. They know that when a bear dies, something sacred in every living thing interconnected with that realm... also dies." - John Murray
Keep bear encounters positive and conflict-free
Hiking, mountain-biking and camping in bear habitat is an exhilarating way to spend a day, a week or a month. And seeing a bear is far more likely to enhance your wilderness experience than spoil it. Knowing what to do and how to behave when the moment comes will keep you and the bear safe - and your spirits high!
Here's how you can make your backcountry (bear) experiences positive and conflict free:
- Be prepared! Learn how and why bears behave and know how to react to an encounter or attack. If you're recreating in grizzly country, ensure you can tell the difference between a black and a grizzly bear.
- "Bears don't like crashing through bushes any more than people do, and are often found on trails, especially early in the morning, near dusk and at night." - Linda Masterson in Living with Bears (pg 177) Before setting out, check with the appropriate authorities (provincial wildlife officer, park warden, etc.) to see if there has been any bear activity along your route. Obey all trail closures and information signs. If there are bears in the area, consider choosing a different route.
- Always, always carry bear pepper spray or another deterrent - and know how to use it.
- Stay alert and watch for bears and bear signs. Tracks, trampled vegetation or scat are all signs that bears may be nearby. Be especially alert where bear foods are abundant."Some bears that are startled by fast-traveling joggers and bikers run away. Some don't." - Linda Masterson in Living with Bears (pg 181)
- Make lots of noise. If a bear hears you coming, it will usually avoid you. Warn bears of your presence by talking calmly and loudly or singing, especially in dense bush where visibility may be limited or around rivers or streams where bears have trouble hearing you coming. Your voice will help identify you as human and non-threatening.
"There is greater safety in large parties.[My data shows] there were no attacks on parties of six people or more. Small parties generally make less noise to alert a grizzly of their presence at a distance, and small parties are less intimidating to a grizzly."
- Steve Herrero in Bear Attacks: Their Causes & Avoidance (pg 5)
- Travel in a group during daylight hours. Especially in grizzly country. There is no record of a bear attacking a larger group of people.
- Avoid animal carcasses. Make a wide detour if you smell or see signs of a dead animal (e.g. ravens circling). Black and grizzly bears can kill large animals for food, and they are attracted to carcasses that have been killed by other causes. Leave the area if possible.
- Keep dogs on a leash and under control. Dogs may be helpful in detecting bears, but they may also agitate them and create a conflict situation.
- Keep your distance. Never approach bears. If a bear (or any animal) approaches, back away in order to maintain a safe distance. Use binoculars, spotting scopes and telephoto lenses to view and photograph wild animals up close. Get more tips here.
- Secure all potential bear attractants. Never feed a bear, either intentionally or unintentionally, by being careless with your garbage or food scraps. Always store your food and garbage in a bear-proof container or hang it in a tree. Securing your campsite with a light-weight, portable electric fence is another effective alternative.
For more information, get a copy of Living with Predators Resource Guide: Recreating in Bear, Wolf and Mountain Lion Country, or consider buying (or at least watching) the excellent Staying Safe in Bear Country video.
"Your best defense in bear country is still your brain - your knowledge and understanding of bears."