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Bear Safety
By: Jim Alseth

The Labor Day weekend found us at the foot of the Rocky Mountains for one final camping trip of the year. The scenery was typically majestic and the weather sunny, so we spent some time exploring. Our enjoyment was tinged somewhat with a sense of adventure and anxiety by the thought we were quite deep into bear country.

As we spoke with Parks staff on one particular trek, we realized bear safety information has changed slightly in recent years. Here are some things to consider.

There are two species most campers might encounter. The most famous, and least likely to meet, is the grizzly. They are distinguished by a characteristically large hump (created by muscle mass) over the shoulders. Sometimes called brown bears, these large animals will not normally attack a human, but will defend their young or their food if approached too closely. They have an excellent sense of smell, good hearing, and are extremely powerful. They are naturally curious, and caution should be taken when in their presence.

Black bears are smaller and darker in appearance. While grizzly habitat is now limited to the northwestern section of the continent, black bears can be found in most areas of Canada and the U.S. with the exception of the central states and southern prairie provinces. They are also curious, have an appetite for garbage and are excellent tree climbers.

Try not to surprise bears. Make noise - talk loud, use bells, or shake stones in a can to announce your presence. If you meet a bear, yield the right-of-way by moving slowly away. Do not run. In the event of being pursued by a bear, traditional thought used to encourage “rolling up in a ball and playing dead.” While this tactic might work for a mainly curious grizzly, it`s now being discouraged. Better to defend yourself (especially with a black bear) with rocks and large tree limbs. If you find yourself in the very rare circumstance of being stalked by a bear, defending yourself will be necessary. One experienced campground owner, Sandra Gies, says emphatically: “The best thing that you can do is MAKE YOURSELF AS TALL AS POSSIBLE. Stand on a stump, a downed tree, a picnic table (if it is in your camp) and extend your arms over your head. YELL at the bear in a deep firm voice, ‘Get out of here! Go away!’ or some such strong command. Black bears do not challenge `larger` animals. Also, much like dogs, a firm, deep voice will stop them in their tracks and convince them to retreat.”

Clean camps are essential to reduce bear problems. Food odors attract bears. Keep the cooking and sleeping areas of your camp separate. Store food in airtight containers. Visitors planning to hike, birdwatch, or travel across country should get information on traveling though bear country before starting.

Remember bears prefer to stay away from humans. Wise preparation will help you and your family enjoy your outdoor adventures while minimizing the risk of an encounter.

Published: 9/24/2003
Source: Great Camping Spots

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