Many residents and visitors to British Columbia explore the backcountry year round. Camping, hiking, fishing, mushroom picking and hunting often puts you in the bear’s natural environment. Remember, though, many of these activities are enjoyed by bears too! By keeping safety precautions in mind such as looking for fresh bear sign (scat, fresh diggings, tracks or claw marks on trees) and securing attractants we can avoid conflict in the wilderness.
Safety should always come first for any backcountry adventure. Black bears have a natural desire to avoid humans, however, if a bear is surprised especially near a food source or with cubs nearby, a charge or attack could occur. For this reason it is important to make your presence known. Your actions are the best defence against a bear attack. It is best to travel in groups and talk loudly – about anything! Bear bells can alert a bear to your presence, but their deterrent effect is unknown. If you encounter a bear you may be able to scare it away with an air horn or other loud noise makers. Keep in mind that dense, damp vegetation will absorb sound and moving water (streams, rivers, waterfalls) will muffle sound; be aware of these conditions and make more noise as needed. Boating air horns are very loud, carry a great distance and can be effective when sounded every half hour or so. Prevention is best, however, should a charge or attack occur, having bear spray on hand has been shown to be effective in deterring a bear at close range.
Managing your attractants in the backcountry is just as important as in your backyard; “If you pack it in, pack it out.” Leaving behind garbage in the woods is not only damaging to the eco-system, but also creates an opportunity for wildlife, namely bears, to become accustomed to human food sources. This can and will lead to bears raiding campsites, causing damage to personal property and possibly becoming dangerous to people. Keep in mind that attractants in the woods are not limited to food – bears have an excellent sense of smell and will be curious about things like toothpaste, deodorant, candles, lotions, dish soap and generally anything with a scent.
Exploring the wilderness requires responsibility and respect from everyone. It’s an individual effort to ensure that while we are in their home there’s no disruption to natural behaviour; let the bears be bears.
Information provided by Christina Brack Alberni Valley Bear Smart Committee Volunteer and Crystal McMillan, Executive Director for Bear Smart BC Society
For more information on how to bear-proof your campsite & home property or to volunteer with the Alberni Valley Bear Smart Committee call:
Dawn Boyce 250-723-2187 or
Darlene Clark 250-724-4657
For more information on the Ministry of Environment Bear Smart Community Program or the Bear Smart BC Society please call: Crystal McMillan at 250-266-(BEAR) 2327.