Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bear Safety

Black bears are New York State's second largest land animal, with only the moose being larger. At one time they were thought to only inhabit the forests, but now they are being found in developed areas as well. Earlier this spring, my local newspaper, The PostStar, reported sightings of a bear walking down Canada Street, the main road going through Lake George Village.

One of my favorite outdoorsy blogs, New York Outdoors Blog, recently referenced a second PostStar article explaining the expansion of the bear population, as well as other animals.

The Adirondacks have the highest black bear population in New York, about 4000-5000 bears. There are an estimated 1500-2500 black bears in the Catskills, and a smaller but growing population of 300-500 in the Allegany region. With a growing and expanding population, you need to know how to prevent an encounter, and how to protect yourself should you ever come face to face with a bear when hiking or camping.

Bear facts:
  • Bears are curious creatures, and often times bear/human encounters are the direct result of them exploring for food.
  • They learn from experience. If the direct result of an action is food, they will continue to repeat the action. (So don't feed the bears or they will keep coming back and possibly become bold and aggressive). If an experience with a human is negative, they will avoid humans.
  • Bear proof containers are necessary to keep your food safe from them. They have an excellent sense of smell and can detect food odors on clothing, so food and cooking clothes should be left in your car, not in your tent when camping. Their excellent sense of smell may allow them to pick up a human scent causing them to head in the opposite direction.
  • They have excellent hearing and especially sensitive to high pitch sounds. They also use their ears as body language. If pointing forward, they are at ease. If they are back, or flat against their head, they are annoyed, angry, or even aggressive.
  • They can climb trees.
There are several things you should do to prevent bear encounters when hiking or camping. Avoid intentional and accidental feeding of the bears. Don't leave your trash out, clean your cooking utensils and grill. Food should never go in your tent. When hiking, travel in large groups, or if you are alone or in a small group, make lots of noise. If you know you are near a bear populated area, clap your hands frequently or use a whistle. Making noise is especially important when the wind is blowing toward you, as they may not pick up on the human scent. They usually will go in the other direction if they smell or hear humans, as they typically want to encounter you as much as you want to encounter them.

Custom beaded safety whistle available at A Keeper's Jackpot

Should you follow the precautions and still encounter a bear, remain calm. Running away only invites them to pursue you. They are also very fast runners, and they will likely catch up with you unless you are sure you can make it quickly to safety. While making lots of noise wards off bears, if you are face to face with one, its is better to speak softly and calmly, making slow movements. It is more likely to attack if it feels threatened or if its cub is nearby. Some sources say that you should slowly raise your arms above your head and sway them so that you appear larger. Carefully, slowly, and quietly back away from the bear while facing it and return in the direction that you came from. Should your efforts fail and the bear confronts you, try bear repellent or play dead. Lay down on your stomach with your hands over your neck and lay motionless. When the bear determines that you are not a threat, it will hopefully retreat. It has been suggested that if you are attack to fight back. Easier said than done, right? That's what I was thinking.

If you are interested in a custom made safety whistle to bring with you in the woods, see my Etsy Shop for details.

Safety whistle attached to my hiking back, at the summit of Sleeping Beauty


Mama Z said...

Thanks for the post! Bears really scare me-which they should! We had bears come through our camp when we were camping in the Sierras but luckily they left us alone because we had all our food in bear cannisters. Some people just don't know that they need to take precautions.

storybeader said...

very informative. we don't have bears in Oklahoma, but it's good to know, since we are strangers to them.