How to play it safe in bear country

By Shanna Baker

If you’re venturing into British Columbia’s wilds this summer, chances are good you’ll be in the company of bears. An estimated 13,000 grizzlies and 80,000-100,000 black bears roam throughout the province. While attacks on humans are very rare, it’s important to avoid encounters, and not just for your benefit?bears that become habituated to people and conditioned to their food usually end up dead.

Here are a few critical tips to help you stay safe in bear country this summer:

At the campsite

  • Never cook or store food in or near your tent. Store food in bear-proof containers. As a last resort, if you have a car or RV with you, store food in the vehicle in airtight containers (bears may sometimes break into vehicles to access food).
  • Use bear caches or hang food and other scented items (including garbage, toothpaste, deodorant, gum, soap, even stinky clothes) out of reach.
  • Keep a clean campsite. Dirty pots, utensils, picnic tables, etc. can all attract a hungry bear.
  • Always sleep in a tent, not under the stars.
  • Keep children and pets nearby.
  • Never clean fish on a picnic table. Bleed and clean your catches in the river. Store fish and bait in bear-proof containers.

On the trail

  • Before setting out, check with the appropriate authorities to see if there has been bear activity along your route (if so consider taking another route). Obey all trail closures and information signs.
  • Carry bear pepper spray or other deterrents and know how to use them.
  • Talk loudly, wear a bear bell, or otherwise make enough noise to avoid surprising a bear, particularly near rivers and streams, berry bushes, and other places they’re likely to be foraging.
  • Keep dogs on leashes.
  • Avoid travelling at dawn and dusk, when bears are most active.
  • Travel in a group.
  • If you spot a bear in the distance, give it a wide berth and leave the area as quickly as possible.
  • Stay away from any animal carcasses you may come upon, which are likely to attract bears.

Safe sightings

Opportunities to safely observe wild bears in the province do exist. Here are a few:

  • A trial grizzly bear viewing station within Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, profiled in our Summer 2011 “Ultimate parks” article, allows visitors to observe grizzlies along the Atnarko River from behind electric fencing (www.bcparks.ca).
  • Ocean Light II Adventures (604-328-5339) of Vancouver and Sunchaser Charters (250-624-5472) out of Prince Rupert are both licensed to run boat-based grizzly watching tours within Khutzemateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary (www.bcparks.ca).
  • Knight Inlet is another popular location for observing grizzlies. Tide Rip Grizzly Tours (250-339-5320) is among the companies offering trips into the area.
  • Whistler Blackcomb offers Bear Viewing and Ecology Tours (www.whistlerblackcomb.com).
  • Tour companies operating out of Tofino promise sightings of black bears in the Clayoquot Sound area. Contact Tourism BC at 1-800-435-5622 for information.
  • Port Alberni’s Victoria Quay boardwalk is a popular place to watch black bears foraging for berries and salmon on the west bank of the Somass River.

For tips on how to photograph wild bears, track down a copy of our Summer 2009 issue featuring “50 things to do before you die” (see #18)

For more information on bear safety, including tips on how to tell grizzly and black bears apart and advice on what to do if attacked, visit the Get Bear Smart Society (www.bearsmart.com) and BC Parks (www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/misc/bears/bearsaf.html ).

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Christine Ly

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