Tuesday, April 19, 2011  
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Quote of the Week
“If you go out alone, you will immensely increase your risk of a bear encounter.”
- Amit Saxena  
Bear Specialist   
   

 

 
Approximately 30 members of the public and the Crowsnest Conservation Society attended a bear safety workshop, lead by former forest ranger and Devon Canada’s bear specialist Amit Saxena, at the Blairmore Library on Saturday, April 9th.
The workshop was put on as a way for anyone who lives in or spends time in bear country to learn to understand bear behaviour, plan safe outings, react safely to bear encounters, and learn how to select and use appropriate bear deterrents.
Saxena commended the community’s BearSmart program for the strides it has taken in reducing bear attractants through installation of bear safe garbage cans, and through programs such as the annual apple roundup and tree exchange.
“Bears will always come back to where they think they can get food,” said Saxena. “They are intelligent and they will remember where food sources are, and teach other bears where to find that food as well.”
He said the best ways of reducing bear encounters are to be observant of bear signs, minimize attractants such as food, avoid areas which bears are known to frequent, pay attention to your surroundings, and stay in groups and make a lot of noise so the bears know you’re there and will stay away.
He said it is very important not to feed bears, as they will become habituated to humans and this will increase bear encounters in that area.
He said some effective ways of minimizing food attractants are using bear safe garbage containment, freezing food scraps before throwing them out, not leaving food in vehicles, avoiding the use of bird feeders during bear season, landscaping with non-fruit-bearing vegetation, harvesting fruit before they ripen, removing fallen fruit from the ground, and storing barbecues indoors when not in use.
In addition, he encourages everyone to put up electric fences or bear mats around gardens, orchards, or properties which are often left unattended.
When out hiking, make lots of noise by singing, yelling or using air horns, and go with a group of five or more people whenever possible.
“If you go out alone, you will immensely increase your risk of a bear encounter,” said Saxena, adding that some provincial parks will not allow hikers to go through certain areas with fewer than six people.
He said bears are naturally curious creatures and will approach humans for that reason, but the majority of backcountry bear encounters are due to bears defending their food, their space, or their cubs.
 
He said black bears are generally passive to humans and will normally retreat and climb trees during an encounter, but that grizzlies have a fight over flight instinct and will attack if necessary.
In the case of a bear encounter, Saxena offered advice for a variety of situations.
If you see the bear, but the bear doesn’t see you, back out the way you came, while keeping an eye on the bear, and if you must go the way the bear is, make the bear aware of your presence without startling it by breaking sticks, stomping, or moving upwind.
If the bear is aware of you but far away, back away slowly and keep your eye on the bear, remembering not to run, as the bear will instinctively begin to chase you, even if it had no initial intention to.
If the bear sees you and it is in close proximity, behave in a non-threatening manner by speaking calmly and waving your arms slowly out to your sides and above your head, and back away slowly while watching for hazards so you do not fall, as this will also trigger the bear’s chase instinct.
If the bear is nearby and acting in a defensive or threatening manner, it is probably defending something such as food, cubs or space.
Back away while keeping an eye out for cubs or food, do not challenge the bear, and get your deterrent (bear spray or firearm) ready.
If the bear charges, and it is not a bluff charge, use your deterrent in order to scare the bear off.
As a last resort, play dead by laying flat on your belly with your fingers laced behind your head and back of your neck, with your legs spread.
If the bear rolls you over, roll back onto your belly, while resisting the urge to struggle or make noise.
If the bear begins to eat you, fight back by striking the bear in the face and ears, and do not move until the bear is long gone.
Most importantly, Saxena said, never go out into bear country without bear spray.
“In my experience, bear spray is 100 per cent effective at deterring aggressive bears,” Saxena said, adding that bear spray is more effective than firearms.
Bear spray is available at most hunting or fly fishing stores at a cost of about $40.
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