During our trip to Yellowstone National Park we became familiar with what “bear aware” means. Now, you would think that being from British Columbia, we would be very bear aware, but in truth, really we were not. At check in we were given very strict instructions of what to do to make our site “bear aware”. The list included thing like, dispose of any berry flavored lip balm or cosmetics, make sure all food items were stored in a hard sided vehicle and leave nothing out in your site. Our first problem, we were camping in a tent trailer and the only thing separating our food from the great outdoors was a thin piece of canvas, but we did our best. We thought we were following these rules until one day we returned to our site, after a day exploring, to find a note from the park ranger. We had left the empty dog water dish on the ground and it was note reminding us of the danger to leaving these items out. A danger not only to us but to the bears. Lesson learned and we were very careful after that. Here is a summary of the “Bear Aware” tips offered by the Canadian and US Park Boards.
What is “bear aware”
A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear: Don’t contributor to food-conditioning of wild animals.
Bears that scavenge food begin to associate food with humans, and become “food-conditioned.” They become desensitized to humans and no longer see us as a threat. The problem occurs when they enter parks and campgrounds looking for an easy meal.
There is little or no chance of correcting a food-conditioned bear resulting in the animals being destroyed because they are a threat to humans. This problem is 100% avoidable and it is up to us, as campers, to do our part.
Avoiding Dangerous Encounters with Bears:
Never feed or approach bears or other wildlife.
Reduce or eliminate odours that attract bears. At the campground, store food in air-tight containers in your RV or car trunk.
Bear caches must be used if they are available at the park. (see photo)
Pack out all your garbage. Store garbage with your food, out of reach of bears and at a safe distance from your sleeping area.
Dispose of all garbage as per park/campground instructions. At no time should any garbage be burned, buried or put in pit toilets.
Cook and eat well away from your tent. (see photo)
Clean up as soon as you are done eating. Never leave cooking utensils, coolers, grease or dish water lying around.
Dispose of dish water by straining it and then throwing it into a gray water pit or pit toilet. Solids should be packed out with the garbage.
The odours of cosmetics, toothpaste and insect repellent can attract bears. These should be stored out of reach with your food and garbage, never in your tent. The best option is to avoid brining these items with you.
Obey all closures and warnings..
When Fishing: Fish have a strong odour and are a key food source for bears. You do the math!
Do not store your catch or bait in your tent. Store it following the same bear aware guidelines as above.
Giving bears plenty of room. If you see a bear, leave, it is their home and you are the uninvited guest.
If approached by a bear, reel in, and leave the area. Cut your line if playing a fish.
Clean the fish at the fishing spot or stream, not at your campsite. Dispose of the fish guts in fast moving water or in a bear safe garbage can.
Do not handle any fish bait or guts at your picnic tables. Wash your hands afterwards, do not wipe on clothing or camping rags
While staying in Bear Country
Keep children and pets in your sight.
Sleep in some kind of shelter, a tent or RV, not under the stars.
Obey and follow all park signs.
Hike, fish and canoe as a group. Do not let children or pets run ahead on trails.
Keep pets leashed or if possible at home. Free-running pets can anger a bear and provoke an attack.
If you see a bear or fresh evidence of a bear, leave the area, and report it to park staff as soon as possible.
Bears are as fast as racehorses, on the flats, uphill or downhill
Bears are great at swimming.
Bears have good eyesight, good hearing, and an acute sense of smell.
All black bears and young grizzlies are agile tree climbers; mature grizzlies are poor climbers, but they have a reach up to 4 meters.
How to Identify a Bear: Identifying bears is important if you are ever approached by one.
Colour: Varies. Black, brown, cinnamon or blond, often with a white patch on the chest or at the throat.
Height: Approximately 90 cm at the shoulder.
Weight: 57 kg to more than 270 kg. Females are usually smaller than males.
Habitat: Prefers forested areas with low-growing plants and berry-producing shrubs (e.g. small forest openings, stream or lake edges, open forest).
Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis Ord)
Colour: Varies. Black (rare), brown or blond. Fur often white-tipped or “grizzled”.Light-coloured patches may occur around neck, shoulders and on rear flanks.
Height: Slightly above one metre at shoulder; 1.8 to 2.0 metres when erect.
Weight: 200 kg to more than 450 kg. Females are usually smaller than males.
Characteristics: Dished or concave face long; curved claws; prominent shoulder hump
Habitat: Semi-open spaces preferred. High country in late summer and early fall; valley bottoms late fall and spring.
If the Bear Approaches
If the bear is standing up, it is usually trying to identify you. Talk softly so it knows what you are. If it is snapping its jaws, lowering its head, flattening its ears, growling or making ‘woofing’ signs, it is displaying aggression.
Do not run unless you are very close to a secure place. Move away, keeping it in view. Avoid direct eye contact.
Dropping your pack or an object may distract it to give you more time. If it is a grizzly, consider climbing a tree.
What to do if a Bear Attacks
What to do will depend on the kind of bear and if it is on the offensive or defensive. The best bet is usually to do nothing to upset the bear. It is also important to remember to respect the distance a bears needs to not feel threatened. Often people want to get a great photo and put themselves and the bear at risk. Be smart and buy a postcard.
Every encounter is unique and the following are offered as guidelines only to deal with an unpredictable animal and potentially complex situations.
Grizzly Attacks From Surprise (defensive)
Do nothing to threaten or further arouse the bear.
Play dead. Assume the ‘cannonball position’ with hands clasped behind neck and face buried in knees.
Do not move until the bear leaves the area. Such attacks seldom last beyond a few minutes.
Black Bear Attacks From Surprise (defensive)
Playing dead is not appropriate. Try to retreat from the attack.
Grizzly or Black Bear Attacks(Offensively, including stalking you or when you are sleeping)
Do not play dead. Try to escape to a secure place (car or building) or climb a tree unless it is a black bear. If you have no other option, try to intimidate the bear with deterrents or weapons such as tree branches or rocks.
Remember, this is their home and we are the visitors. We must follow the guidelines set out by park staff in order to make our visit safe for the wildlife. The greatest part of camping is getting away to the great out doors, spending time in the crisp, clean air and enjoying all the forests have to offer. This includes bears and although many people think it would be exciting to see one, in truth, we are only doing our job as visitors if we take all the precautions necessary to not encounter a bear. Not sighting a bear often means you have done your job as a visitor and the wildlife thank you.