Skip to Content

Safety

Bear Aware is an educational program designed to prevent and reduce conflicts between people and bears in our communities. This is done primarily by providing information on how to manage attractants so that humans do not draw bears into urban areas.

Bear Aware, in general, does not provide Bear Safety information nor are we responsible for bear management or responding to bear sightings or conflicts. Please contact the Conservation Office 24 Hour Hotline:

rapp.jpg

Questions

I am personally interested in learning how to be safe in bear country – what do you recommend?
You can view the Ministry of Environment’s Safety Guide to Bears in the Wild at http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/documents/bearwld.htm
Or you can visit B.C. Parks' bear safety page at:

http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/misc/bears/bearsaf.html

For more in-depth information, you can view Staying Safe in Bear Country - a DVD that provides information to help reduce human injuries and property damage from grizzly and black bears throughout North America. This video is the consensus opinion of leading experts on bear behaviour and its relevance to human safety. This video will increase your knowledge of bear behaviour and may help you prevent bear encounters and attacks. This video was revised in 2008 and is available from most local libraries and can also be purchased online.
I am interested in working in bear country – what do you recommend?
Working in Bear Country is a companion video to Staying Safe in Bear Country. It is a consensus opinion of leading experts on working safely in grizzly and black bear country. It is essential to view Staying Safe in Bear Country before viewing Working in Bear Country. Reduce human injury and property damage from bears through this guide to: Field safety including: employee responsibilities, helicopter support; Camp safety including: location and design, attractant management; Bear Detection Systems; Bear Deterrents; Firearms; Bear Response Planning. This video is available from most local libraries and can also be purchased online.
I’ve watched both DVDs but I would like to provide more detailed training to my employees – is there anything else I can do?
BEAR SCARE is a Western Canadian based company that specializes in the training of non-lethal methods to prevent human/wildlife conflicts. Training courses vary from “non-lethal bear management training” for law enforcement and wildlife managers to safety orientated training for working or recreating in bear and cougar country. BEAR SCARE’s non-lethal bear management training and safety courses are endorsed by the Get Bear Smart Society, Canadians for Bears and the Humane Society of the United States. Previous clients of BEAR SCARE include the RCMP, B.C. Search and Rescue, Resort Municipality of Whistler, the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, B.C. Forest Service, Halliburton Energy Services and Suncor Energy.

http://www.bearscare.ca/about.html

I hear the terms food-conditioned and habituated used to describe bears – is it the same thing?

Two of these terms are used to describe bear behaviour in proximity to humans:

  • Habituation: Habituated bears are those that become comfortable around people and tolerate them at a closer distance. Habituated bears no longer behave as if they fear humans. They are, however, still wild animals.
    A bear learns to increase its tolerance toward humans if repeated exposure to humans results in no negative or positive outcome. The bear learns to conserve its energy and not run from humans, which it has learned are not a threat. In other words, if you keep banging pots and pans or using cracker shells to scare bears, they eventually learn that they are not harmful and start to ignore them. The same holds true with simple human presence. More detailed information can be found in Stephen Herrero’s book Bear Attacks – Their Causes and Avoidance.
  • Food Conditioning: Food conditioning means the bear not only is willing to be around people but it is actually attracted to the places people live, or camp, or travel because it hopes to get some food from them.
    Food-conditioned bears often begin as human-habituated bears. A habituated bear is more likely to encounter odours of garbage or other human attractants, and is less repelled by human presence than a bear that is not food-conditioned. When the bear does overcome any lingering wariness and accesses the food, it learns that human developments contain high-calorie food sources. Repeated food rewards reinforce the bear’s continued presence in human developments and the bear becomes bolder around humans in order to access the food, sometimes breaking into buildings or vehicles. More detailed information can be found in Stephen Herrero’s book, Bear Attacks – Their Causes and Avoidance.
Are human food-conditioned and habituated bears more dangerous than other bears?
Scientific evidence suggests that human-habituated bears are less aggressive toward humans than bears with little experience around people (Jope 1983, Aumiller and Matt 1994, Herrero et al. 2005). Habituated bears often allow people to approach more closely than a wary bear would, but a habituated bear still retains self defence and food defence behaviours. It is possible for a bear to become too habituated to humans, allowing people who perceive the bear as “tame” to approach to closely and increasing the likelihood of the person being injured by a bear who subsequently becomes uncomfortable with the close proximity. Habituation to humans can also lead to food-conditioning as the bear spends more time in human developments. Because food-conditioned bears have largely overcome their wariness around humans, they can become more aggressive toward people when accessing or defending food sources, and are more dangerous than bears that are not food-conditioned.

The best way to balance bears' tolerance for humans between levels that promote our safety in areas we share with bears and levels that don't increase the risk of bears becoming food-conditioned is to manage our attractants in ways that prevent bears from accessing them.

How can I reduce risk for my children who have to walk to school?
Organize a reporting system so that parents can be alerted to a bear in the area, if your child’s school is in a traditional bear-human conflict area. Organize with other parents so that an adult walks with your child to school. If an adult is not available or children are older, arrangements can be made for several children to walk together in a group. Teach your children to avoid areas that are used by bears, especially at night. Educate your children about what to do when they encounter a bear.
What should my child do if he or she sees a bear?
Children can be taught to respect a bear’s “personal space”, because this is terminology familiar to children. Parents and children’s supervisors should keep children under close supervision when a bear has been reported in the area.
If you see a bear from a distance, STOP, never run, as the bear may chase you just as a dog would do. Climbing a tree is not recommended as even a grizzly may climb after you. If the bear has NOT seen you, you should leave the area quietly. Go to a safe place (anticipate where your child may encounter bears and identify safe areas, such as homes displaying a Block Parent sign or people your child knows and can trust, to your child ahead of time) and tell an adult. If you see a bear and bear sees you, back away speaking in deep, low tones at a normal volume.
Teachers or parents should practice with children and show them the following:
  • this is how big you should make yourself,
  • this is how you should back away.
  • this is how loud your voice should be, and
  • this is how deep your voice should be.

Practise will embed this information in the child’s mind for the future. While this should be a learning experience done in a “fun” manner, the children should be well aware of the importance of the message. Reinforcement is critical.

Establish a consistent phrase for the child to repeat while backing away. For example, teach children to say in a low deep voice “hello bear, I won’t run away. You can stay and play; I’ll come back another day.” These words are all low sounding phonetics and not high pitched. By establishing a consistent phrase and having children memorize the phrase, the development of a learned behaviour occurs. Remember practice, practice and practice.

Encourage your children’s school to establish a protocol for behaviour when a bear is seen in or near the playground. The children should all practice the protocol until they know what to do and who to tell when a bear is seen at or near the school.

Schools should be aware of any bear attractants on the property and take steps to remove or manage the attractants.

What should I do if there is a bear in my yard (urban situation)?
First, ask yourself “what has attracted the bear to my yard?” Second, call the Conservation officer Service at 1-877-952-7277.
Do not let the bear feel comfortable in your yard. If you are concerned about confronting the bear, make a loud, preferably low frequency, noise (e.g. bang pots together) from the safety of your house.
A bear in your yard should never be a welcome sight. You must take quick action to eliminate attractants after the bear is gone. A bear that finds food once is likely to return to that spot. A returning bear will learn that the food is no longer available and will seek a meal elsewhere if you eliminate the food source.

Never approach a bear, even on your property. Do not allow anyone else to approach the bear. Ensure that there are no people, especially children nearby. A frightened black bear will likely look for a tree to climb. A sow with cubs will stay in a tree longer than a single bear. Keep people away from the base of the tree. Be patient and give the bear time to leave.

What are higher risk recreational activities?
 
Running or mountain biking can increase the potential for bear encounters because people are moving relatively quickly and quietly giving the bear less opportunity to detect and avoid the person. Cross-country skiing when some bears are still active may also have increased risk of sudden encounters. If you are recreating in an area where you may encounter a bear carry bear spray and ensure you know how to use it properly. When running or skiing bear spray can be carried in a holster around your waist, in addition there are holders for bear spray made for bikes.
Herrero (2003) states that:

“These activities which are characterized by speed, not cautious attention to the possibility of encountering a bear, increase the chances of sudden encounters and related injuries.”
Herrero (2003) also states the following regarding avoidance of sudden encounters with grizzly bears:
“As soon as visibility becomes restricted, such as dense brush, and there is a chance of suddenly confronting a grizzly, I often start making noise. Some people shout or chant their favourite protective mantra: others sing, wear bells, blow whistles, or bang pots or sticks together. I prefer to yodel. The more you know about bears, and where you might confront one, the more selective you can be in your use of warning noise. Remember that the bear is supposed to hear your sound when it is still far enough away from you that it does not feel threatened. Keep in mind that most sudden encounters heading to injury have occurred when the person was not aware of the grizzly until it was less than fifty-five yards away. Supposedly the bear was not aware of the person any sooner, and when it became aware, the person was already too close. I recommend making loud noise, as opposed to a few small bells hung from your pack and left tinkling.” and “Near rushing water, in a strong wind, or even in dense forest, the noise of such bells or even the human voice does not carry very far. Low frequencies are supposed to travel better around trees. I sometimes use a combination of deep guttural sounds with a yodel and a short, explosive, high-pitched sound at the end.”

Herrero (2003) also notes that:

There may also be a danger in making noise, however. While you are trying to avoid a sudden encounter, especially of females with cubs, you may attract some grizzlies. Young adult grizzly bears are particularly curious, and their curiosity is often not yet tempered with knowledge that humans can mean trouble. This type of bear may be attracted to human sounds. Bears may also be attracted to high-pitched squeaking sounds, which may sound like distressed animals to bears.”

Walking dogs without a leash, especially dogs that are not trained to come when called, may provoke an attack. Some dogs may threaten or harass a bear and then retreat to the owner, possibly with an angry bear in pursuit. An angry bear in pursuit may turn from attacking the dog to attack the person.

References:

Aumiller L.D. and C.A. Matt. 1984. Management of McNeil River State Game Sanctuary for viewing of brown bears. International Conference on Bear Research and Management 9(1):51-61.

Jope, K.L. McArthur. 1983. Habituation of grizzly bears to people: a hypothesis. International Conference of Bear Research and Management 5: 322-327.

Herrero, S. T. Smith, T. DeBruyn, K. Gunther, C. A. Matt. 2005. From the field: brown bear habituation to people: safety, risks and benefits. Wildlife Society Bulletin 33(1): 362-373.

Herrero S. 2003. Bear attacks: their causes and avoidance. New Revised Edition. McClelland & Stewart Ltd.