The snowline is in full retreat in the mountains and it would seem that the spring sunshine is winning the battle over winter in the alpine. The days are continually lengthening and the number of activities and outdoor enjoyment that can be packed into one day is also increasing. However people are not the only things renewing their travel plans in the backcountry, bears are also awakening and harkening in the spring with some leg stretching in the mountains.
There are many misconceptions about bears and especially about how people should interact with them, and it is my aim to dispel some of those false notions. Through some tips on species identification, interaction protocols as well as a good slate of resources to use, this article should help you to feel well prepared when it comes to bears. Most active trail users spend a lifetime in the backcountry, regularly seeing bears, respecting them, and never coming into conflict with them.
As a general rule whenever you are in the backcountry, and by that I mean you are driving up Chilliwack Lake Rd, or heading anywhere off the highway in Hope or around Harrison, or even Cultus lake, you are in bear country. This is not a cause for fear or panic but rather a consciousness that will help avoid any sort of unwanted interaction.
Here are the rules of bear safety:
- Know when you are in bear country.
- Do not feed bears for any reason.
– It may seem like a great idea to lure in a cuddly little bear that is wandering beside the road with your ham sandwich so that you can get a really good photo to show your friends. I assure you this is not the case. Bear problems usually occur with “garbage bears”, bears that are habituated to human food and garbage and have lost their healthy respect for distance between them and us. Not only is feeding a bear extremely dangerous for you, it is even more dangerous for all of the other people who might interact with that animal after you have basically trained it to associate people with a source of easy food.
- Make noise when you are traveling in bear country.
– Making noise while in the woods is the best method for preventing unwanted interactions. Bears do not want to spend time around people so if they hear you coming along the trail they will likely move off before you ever realize that they were there. This can be done by talking with trail companions or by wearing a bear bell on your backpack, or your dog’s collar etc., will giggle as you walk and make enough noise that you will be detected by the bear. Startling a bear by “sneaking” up on it, by chance or by intent, is where their behavior can become unpredictable and dangerous. I liken it to sneaking up behind a horse and then slapping its back end while standing behind it. Animals simply do not like to be startled.
- Make food caches when camping.
– If you are planning on spending the night in the backcountry, take the necessary precautions and store your food in a place where bears can’t get at it. This is commonly done by putting all items with a scent, including food, tooth paste, deodorant etc. in a bag, tying a line to this bag and then throwing the line up and over a branch that is at least 10 feet off the ground. You would then proceed to haul on the line, thus raising the bag off of the ground and out of the immediate reach of any bears.
- Always carry bear spray and/or bear bangers
– If all of your efforts to avoid interactions with bears have proven themselves not to work and you do come into a confrontation with a bear, it is key to have bear spray on hand. Bear spray is basically pepper spray designed to be used when a bear gets too close. Bear spray kept in an easily accessible spot, should be pointed in the direction of the bear, and then discharged with the wind blowing away from you. This will deter any bear from advancing its aggression towards you. Bear spray does expire so ensure that your canister is current prior to heading out. Bear bangers are essentially a small firecracker that are meant to be used to scare bears off while they are still at a distance. They are useful when there is a bear on or near the trail ahead of you and you are unable to go around the animal. Scaring the bear off before it becomes a problem can often prevent the close proximity conflict that would require the use of bear spray. However bear bangers are an addition to having bear spray and not a substitute. If you only carry one of these items always choose the bear spray.
- Make sure that you can determine if it is a black bear or a grizzly bear.
– Black bear and grizzly bears behave differently and react differently, so it is important to know what kind of bear you are dealing with. There are some very distinct features that will help you to determine the species of bear, allowing you to interact with them accordingly. (See the Diagram)
- Educate yourself on bears
– In BC we have some of the best resources anywhere for bear awareness and education to help you. Check out www.bearaware.bc.ca for all of the information you need on bears.
“The best way of being kind to bears is not to be very close to them.” – Margaret Atwood
– Sam Waddington – Owner of Mt. Waddington’s Outdoors: Equipping you for Rock, Water, Snow, Sand, Wind and anything else the Outdoors can throw at you!