Learn about living with bears; creating bear smart communities; recreating in bear country; bear safety at work; and managing bears (for wildlife officials).


Frequently Asked Questions: The Short Answer

This page is for people looking for a short answer to what’s puzzling them about bears (FAQ’s). But, answers are not always short and some do require more digging. If we haven’t been able to answer your question below, please type in your question into the “Search” box or peruse the site map. If all else fails, send us an email and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.

What do I do if I encounter a bear?

Unfortunately, there is no short answer to this “Q” and there is a lot of misinformation out there.

Knowledge about bears and their behaviour is your best defense in bear country. Every situation is dynamic and your reaction depends on a variety of factors including your distance from the bear, the type of encounter i.e. whether the bear is behaving in a defensive or offensive manner, and whether cubs or a valuable food carcass are involved, among other considerations.

It is best to learn what to do before it happens. Click here to learn more.

Other references include:
Book: Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance (revised edition) by Stephen Herrero
Video: Staying Safe in Bear Country

Do I need to carry bear spray?

Always carry bear spray in remote wilderness areas and in grizzly country; or if you are hunting or fishing in bear country. Read the label and know how to use it. Get an inert can and practice using it before you venture out into bear country. Learn more here.

Are there any myths about bears?

Myths about bears abound. Some old wives tales can get you in serious trouble. The biggest myth is that bears are always dangerous. This is just not true. Bears can be potentially dangerous in certain circumstances. However, if you understand bear behaviour and how to behave around bears, you are reasonably unlikely to have a negative experience. 15 myths about bears.

How do I keep a bear away from my property?

That’s really easy. Manage your waste properly. And keep your property free of anything else that looks or smells like food. Click here to see what attracts bears and how you can protect other attractants that just can’t be removed from your property.

Can I safely hike in bear country?

Of course. To be safe, carry bear pepper spray and learn how to use it. Know whether bears frequent the area and what species they are. Know what to avoid. Know what to do if you do encounter a bear. Here are some more tips.

How do you tell the difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear?

There are many unique distinguishing characteristics to look for and some that are the same on both species. Click here to learn how.

Is my dog safe in bear country?

That depends on your dog’s behaviour and the bear’s personality. Keep your dog on a leash or under strict voice control when walking in areas of known bear activity. A mother bear (especially a grizzly) may chase an unleashed dog to protect her cubs. And the dog will probably run back to you for protection creating a situation that’s hard to control.

If your dog is aggressive towards bears (nips their heels as they’re fleeing the scene), the bear’s response will depend on their level of tolerance and just how annoying the dog is being. It is best to avoid this scenario by keeping your dog under control.

Bears will not intentionally attack dogs, in an unprovoked scenario, but if the bear is startled or surprised by a dog, they may swat or bite in self defense. A black bear will often flee or climb a tree when disturbed by dogs. A grizzly may not be as accommodating.

Can I feed birds in bear country?

Generally speaking you should not feed birds between December 1st and April 1st. It would be best to check with your local wildlife agency to see when bears are active in your area. Regardless of the dates specified above, if a bear is active in your community, you should cease all bird feeding activity. Bears that have access to winter feeders will sometimes remain active, visiting the feeder late into December, and sometimes for the whole winter.

Can I feed bears?

NO! People should not feed bears or make food available through improper garbage storage or other attractants. Generally speaking, doing so can increase the likelihood of property damage, human-bear conflicts, or result in escalating “problem” behavior that leads to the bear getting killed. In many states and provinces, purposeful or inadvertant feeding can result in a fine. Rules vary from province to province and state to state. But, the answer is very clear and it is NO!

But what about diversionary or supplemental feeding programs?

These types of programs can be highly effective when organized by those who manage the bears. Don’t try this at home! Learn more here.

How do I prevent bears from bothering my campsite?

Always keep a clean camp. Don’t leave any food, including condiments, out when not in use. Hang food at least 10 m high (and at least 2 m from top and side supports), or store it in bear-resistant units, or as a last resort, in hard-shelled vehicles or car trunks. Never eat in your tent. Keep your sleeping area, tent and sleeping bag free of food and odors. In backcountry areas, your sleeping area should be 100 m from food storage and cooking areas. If a black bear comes into your camp, yell, bang pots and pans and try to scare it away. Remember: black bears can be chased off easier before they obtain food. Learn more here.

Why do wildlife/conservation officers kill bears?

Bears are often killed if wildlife/police officers have exhausted all non-lethal means of managing bears or if bears have become too persistent in their search for food and actually enter people’s homes to get it. These behaviours are exceedingly difficult to unlearn. The level of tolerance for unacceptable bear behaviour varies widely from area to area.

The bottom line is that the onus is on people to eliminate attractants from their properties and not to lure a bear into conflict in the first place. We must address the root cause of the problem: get rid of the attractant and you’ll get rid of the bear. It’s that simple.

Why can’t bears just be relocated?

The short answer and the one you don’t want to hear, is that relocation really doesn’t work in most cases. Wish it did, but it doesn’t. There are numerous reason why. Learn more here.

What good are bears?

Throughout history, humans have always been interested in bears. They occupy many places in our culture — from Native American ceremonies to Teddy bears. Bears have a very positive impact on our environment. Because bears need a variety of habitats to thrive, managing habitat for bears benefits many other species. As a result, bears are a good indicator species of healthy wildlife habitat. If a habitat supports bears, it will support many other creatures.

The bears themselves affect the ecosystem in a multitude of ways. As predators, they help control deer and moose populations; as scavengers they help clean up carcasses; in their search for insects, they act as nutrient recyclers; and by eating a variety of fruits, they help distribute and sow fruiting trees and shrubs which are used by other animals.

Bears also hold some secrets that are worthy of study ~ such as the ability of pregnant female bears to shut down their digestive and excretory systems and still deliver and nurse as many as 6 cubs while hibernating. Bears also have significant economic value in many parts of the country; photographers and wildlife enthusiasts all spend significant sums of money in order to view bears.

Bears enrich our lives in many ways and provide many useful functions. Perhaps the most important function is the knowledge that if you live in an area that can support a healthy bear population, that area is also healthy enough to support you.

Watch this short film to learn more.

Let us know if you have a “Q” that we haven’t listed an “A” to. Submit your “Q” here.