Repurposed from Recreation.Gov
By Brian Dykstra, Scott Jackson, and Stephanie Coppeto, U.S. Forest Service
Safety in bear country begins before you stay in the campground or hit the trail.
Be Bear Aware: Bears exist in and around a majority of our public lands across the United States and are native and natural members of the wildlife community. Seeing a bear can be an exciting experience, one that will form a lasting memory of your visit. By learning more about bears and their curious nature, you can better prepare for your visit to bear country and make it a positive experience for both you and the bear
About Bears: Bears are curious and intelligent animals, capable of learning and modifying their behavior based on life experiences. Bears have an excellent sense of smell that can span miles and their eyesight is similar to a human’s. The Native Americans have a poignant saying: “A pine needle fell. The eagle saw it. The deer heard it. The bear smelled it.” Smell is a bear’s most fundamental and important sense.Three bear species live in North America – black bears, brown bears and polar bears, with polar bears living only in the Arctic. Black and brown bears can be identified by these characteristics:
- Black bears (Ursus americanus) are the most abundant and widely distributed of the three species of North American bears. Black bears vary in color from jet black to cinnamon to white, although black is the color encountered most frequently.
- Brown bears and grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) are the same species, even though there are notable differences between them. “Brown bears” typically live along the southern coast of Alaska where they have access to seasonally abundant spawning salmon. The smaller “grizzly bear” lives in the northern and interior areas of Alaska as well as the northern Cascades and Rocky Mountains of the lower 48 states.
Black and brown bears are omnivorous, meaning they eat a variety of plants and animals. Bear diets consist mainly of grasses, roots, berries, insects, and fish and animals, including dead animals. Bear feeding increases in late summer and fall as they prepare for winter hibernation. Bears are opportunistic eaters and can easily develop a taste for human and pet foods. In addition, bears seeking food can be attracted to non-foods that have a smell, such as toothpaste, handy-wipes, soap, some medications, cooking utensils and grills, bird seed and garbage. Most human-bear conflicts occur when bears access and become habituated to human food sources.
Safety when Camping in Bear Country
It is very important to never feed bears! Bears can quickly learn to associate people with food and easily become habituated to human food. Follow these simple guidelines when camping:
- Keep a clean camp. All food, toothpaste, soda and juices, and other bear attractants should be secured away from tents.
- Use food lockers when available or follow the campground’s food storage recommendations and guidelines for properly storing food while in the area.
- Use recycling and trash bins provided at campgrounds frequently instead of storing garbage at your campsite.
- Keep your pets leashed and secure their food between meals.
- While away from camp, secure food and garbage.
Safety for Hiking in Bear Country
While hiking, you should always watch ahead for bears or bear signs. In their natural habitats, bears prefer to avoid humans but will react aggressively when startled or protecting cubs. Human confrontations with bears are usually the result of a sudden encounter with a bear protecting its space, cubs or food caches.
Use these tips when hiking in bear inhabited areas:
- Avoid surprising bears by making noise, as bears will avoid you if they can hear or smell you.
- Always give a bear space. Never approach, crowd, pursue or displace a bear you see ahead on the trail.
- Never get between a mother and her cub even if the cub appears to be alone or sick.
- Leave pets at home or keep them leashed. Loose dogs can startle bears and cause them to chase the dogs back to their owners.
If You Encounter a Bear
Whether on the trail or in your campsite, do not run! Remain calm, group together and pick up small children. Continue to face the bear and back away slowly, talking calmly to identify yourself as a human and not another animal. If the bear continues to approach, try to scare it away by making yourself as large and imposing as possible and making loud noises. Carry and know how to use bear spray, which is available at many outdoor retailers and can be used to deter a charging bear.