Spend enough time in bear country and you’ll likely see someone getting too close to a grizzly for a photo or leaving a picnic table covered in garbage or food. Despite the multiple warning signs scattered through areas where people and bears could meet, and the stories of both preventable euthanizations and attacks, there always seems to be one or two people who break the rules. Ignorance is not an excuse: going outdoors is entering bears habitat. Bad bear etiquette endangers both humans and the animals themselves.
Although bears do eat berries and may look cute, fuzzy, and harmless, they are large predators—not soft-spoken Winnie the Pooh or snuggly teddy bears. They are wild animals, with natural instincts to protect and defend their young, their food and their backs. Bears have a sense of curiosity driven by a perpetual quest for food. They have powerful noses, strong paws and jaws, and even though they look rotund, they can run, climb and swim with ease. The wild is their comfort zone.
All these facts and more inform good bear etiquette and guidelines, which are set to protect you, your fellow outdoors people, other animals and the bears. Bears that get used to humans are a threat to both us and themselves. “Problem bears” are a product of, and often fall victim to, bad bear etiquette.
Following these guidelines means stress- and injury-free outdoor adventure with minimal impact on the creatures that call these spaces home.
Do Not Feed the Wildlife
Bears are meant to eat wild foods. Having access to human food can make a bear unhealthy and associate humans with a meal. Thus, one of the most important rules of bear etiquette is never leave garbage or food where bears can smell and access it. When camping, use a cache or a bear safe, or suspend everything high in a tree. Never keep food or smelly items in your tent, even if you think it doesn’t smell tasty or is still packaged. Clean up after yourself when you leave a campsite or picnic area by removing all food scraps and litter. Not only is this good etiquette in general, but you are also protecting the bear and next person that comes along.
Give Them Space
Bears have a big bubble. Respect this wild animal’s boundaries and most often it’ll leave you alone. If you see signs of a bear, keep an eye and your headphones out. Bear signs includes tracks, flipped rocks and holes, fresh piles of poo and claw marks on trees. If you see a bear, don’t approach it. Keep your distance: no selfies. Don’t follow a bear into the woods for a better photo opportunity. Give potential food sources, such as a fish or animal carcase, a wide berth. Assume every bear you see has cubs to defend.
Bears hate being surprised. Let the bear give itself space: make noise as you move through bear country, whatever method that may be. Most bears beat a hasty getaway when they are surprised, so give it room to do so.
Leash Your Pet
Dogs can flush out and enrage a bear that would otherwise have watched you walk by without bothering you. If the bear is anything like neighbours, it will get annoyed at the incessant barking—or it might just fancy a nibble of Fido. Once the chase is on, guess who your dog will run to for protection?
Bear spray and other deterrents, such as bangers or horns, are a humane way of protecting both you and the bear. Once a bruin has attacked a human it has a bounty on its head, so if you can at all prevent a bear attack, even if its with bear spray, you’re doing the bear a favour.
If you meet a bear or see a sign announcing a bear in the area, don’t assume the other humans on the trail are as observant, have deterrents with them or know what to do in a bear encounter. Chat with your fellow explorers and let them know!
Overall, be smart and respectful when you’re out in the bear’s backyard.