Thankfully, we don’t need to worry too much about lions and tigers when we take to the mountains and forests to hike or camp. (Well, cougars in some locations, but that seems to be pretty rare). What is not so rare is to encounter a bear! Population sprawl has driven bears into suburban communities and has exposed them to the influence of humans. Namely, human food. Yogi, that pesky cartoon bear, loved those picnic baskets, but you really wouldn’t want to meet up with him face-to-face at your campsite.
Zookeepers at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo recently staged a demonstration with two of the park’s grizzlies to make a point. They set up a mock campsite with typical coolers and tents full of typical camping food, then kicked back to see what would happen. The grizzlies quickly transformed the site into a big bear supermarket. They crushed the coolers and tore apart sleeping bags in search of a hidden granola bar. “They know what they’re looking for,” said Woodland Park’s Julie Hopkins. “They’re following their noses for every good smell they can find.” Wildlife experts say brown bears can remember 10 years later where they found a good food source.
The lesson learned here is to always, always keep food well away from your campsite’s sleeping area, at least 100 feet away. And while hanging food in trees is one method to keep the bears away, some parks, such as Yellowstone National Park, don’t allow it. Bear-resistant containers have proven to be a far better deterrent. Made from a tough ABS polymer with smooth sides and rounded edges, bears have nothing to grip onto. Lids are secured with stainless steel locks that are easy for humans to open with a coin or a screwdriver, but are difficult for bears to open. Anything with a scent should be stowed in the canister, and this includes sunscreen, soap, mosquito repellent, lip balm, deodorant, medications, toothpaste, and feminine products — along with food, of course. Keep the canisters locked, placed on a level surface 100 feet or more from the campsite, away from cliffs or water sources so a bear can’t knock it down a hill or roll it into the water. Additionally, don’t attach a rope as bears could easily carry it away. Some people place pots and pans on top of the canister to sound an alarm if a bear disturbs the container. For hikers, carry the canister in your pack and replace food that you eat with other items to conserve space.
Wild bears have a natural fear of humans and will attempt to avoid people, but they can become aggressive once they’ve had a taste of human food. In addition to securing your food, are some helpful tips for avoiding bears on your next hiking or camping trip.
- Make plenty of noise so you don’t surprise bears that may be on your path. (Attach a bell to your backpack).
- Try to travel with the wind at your back. Bears can smell your scent from miles away if the wind is in the right direction.
- Some experts say that dogs can provoke a bear attack. It may be advisable to not bring your dog along when travelling in bear country.
- Bears are more active at dawn and sunset from May to October.
- Bear repellent spray is a pressurized cayenne pepper that can be projected up to 8 meters, causing burning and tearing of the eyes and inflammation of the lungs and throat. The effects of the bear spray last up to an hour but do not cause lasting damage. (Carry in an easily accessible holster). Use bear spray only if the bear charges to within a few meters.
Bottom line? Bears are not Yogi or Smokey. They are large, fast, and potentially vicious wild animals, and when we encroach into their habitat, common sense and pre-planning must prevail. Lions and tigers? Not so much. But bears? Oh my.