HAPPY HIKING IN BEAR COUNTRY.
For most people who have never spent anytime in the Canadian wilderness or even driving down our highways, a bear is either one of two things: as thirsty for man-flesh as a tiger who hasn’t had a decent meal in two weeks or as soft and fuzzy as a 3-year-old’s teddy bear. Both of these perceptions of bears are extreme exaggerations of the real thing. Bears are neither as ferocious or cuddly as people seem to think they are. (Unfortunately a real rendition of a bear would never make a good Hollywood film.)
Bears are omnivores; meaning that they eat both meat and vegetation. Most of their diet consists of nuts, berries, fruit, leaves, and roots. They will also eat small rodents, fish, and sometimes large game animals, like deer. For example, if you ever happened to be on a date with a bear, they would probably stick to ordering the house salad and pacific salmon off the menu and not eating the terrified human sitting across from them.
People often ask, “Should I buy bear-spray to protect my children from bears?”. Being in the Canadian wilderness on your summer vacation can be fun. You might choose to go on an adventurous hike or maybe just sit back and relax at your campsite. Whatever you decide to do, your children will probably be excited about it and excited children make a lot of noise. Every single bear in the surrounding area will not want to be anywhere near you and your very noisy children. Bears don’t like to run into humans and humans don’t like to run into bears. They are animals of solitude and quiet. If you don’t have the privilege of bringing live little noise makers on your trip, put your singing talents to the test with some ‘forest karaoke’. Chances are the bears will appreciate your vocal skills as much as a panel of American Idol judges. Once your vocal chords need a rest or you would prefer not to sing, clap your hands every once in a while or shout phrases like “Hey bear!” and “Ay-Oh!”. Bear spray can only be used within 9 meters away from a bear and should be used as a last resort.
However, if you do run into a bear in close range there are a few strategies that can prevent you from participating in a human vs. bear showdown:
1) Stay calm and make no sudden movements. Running away is probably the worst thing to do. Speak in a calm, soothing voice to let the bear know what you are, (and that you “come in peace!”). Back away slowly and don’t make eye contact. Most likely the bear won’t be interested in your existence and everything will be okay.
2) Bears only become aggressive when they are protecting their cubs or food source. If you see a mother and her cubs while hiking, immediately turn around and walk away from the area.
3) Getting charged by a bear is very unlikely. If you have time, climb a tree. If not, drop to the ground with your knees tucked into your chest and clasp your hands behind your neck. This shows the bear that you are not aggressive. Most attacks from bears are a bluff. But if the bear is a black bear and continues to show aggression, fight back. If the bear is a grizzly stay in a tucked position.
In any case of a bear sighting, call the provincial government’s Conservation Officer Service hotline, at 1-877-952-7277. This is the 24 hour, “Report All Poachers and Polluters” (RAPP) hotline.
When you call the RAPP hotline you will need to provide the following information:
1) Indicate where you live, why you are calling, your name and telephone number.
2) You will be asked what type of bear you have seen, the location of the bear, and the time of the sighting. If the bear is on your property at the time of the call, they will instruct you on what to do.
3) In most cases, the RAPP centre or the Bear Aware Coordinator will pass the information on to the local conservation officer. He or she may contact you to ask more detailed questions. It is a good idea to write down the sighting information while it is fresh in your mind.
For more information on bears and how to stay safe visit Revelstoke’s local Bear Aware Society’s website. The Revelstoke Bear Aware Society are the go-to expects on bears in the Revelstoke area for both locals and visitors alike.
The most important thing to remember is that bears are wild animals. Their space should be treated with caution and respect. Never attempt to get closer to a bear to take photo of it or try to entice it with human food. When bears start eating human food, they start roaming in towns and searching for it. This is when bears become a problem. Once a bear is a problem, a conservation officer often has to shoot it. When on a hike, pack in and out all your garbage. Even apple cores and banana peels. These biodegradables are not natural to a bear’s habitat and are all considered bear treats. Your sandwich could potentially be the death of a bear.
The best thing to arm yourself with is information. By knowing what to do and how to act, we can keep our forests and campgrounds safe places for both bears and humans. Happy hiking everyone!