Keep safety in mind when out in bear country

If you are in bear country just be aware…it works.
By Sharon Wootton, Herald Columnist
Grizzlies: Fewer than 20 in the North Cascades; 40 to 50 in the Selkirk region of northeast Washington and northern Idaho.

The odds of a hiker meeting Ursus arctos in the North Cascades is so slim as to be, practically speaking, none, yet the mere presence of grizzlies creates uneasiness in many hikers.

Meeting a grizzly “is an extremely rare event,” said Sharon Negri, co-director of the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project (

“You have more chance of being stung by a bee,” she said.

OK, a grizzly is more dangerous than a bee, but point made. Negri said that there have been no reported encounters since the 1960s.

“There’s not even been a credible sighting in years.”

Shrinking habitat and overhunting led to grizzlies being listed as threatened species since 1975 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Six grizzly recovery ecosystems have been established to save them, with the 10,000-square-mile North Cascades the largest grizzly bear recovery ecosystem.

Many grizzly facts are often a surprise to people.

“They have an incredible sense of smell. They’re intelligent and curious. They have the slowest reproduction rate of land animals, which is part of why the population suffers decline,” Negri said.

Grizzlies enter the world weighing about 1 pound, and the largest ones grow to about 1,500 pounds. Grizzlies spend about 3½ years with their mothers. They are identified by the prominent hump on their backs and short rounded ears, but not their color.

The North Cascades could sustain 200 to 300 bears, Negri said.

The thousands of black bears are another story. In 2010, the number of reported black bear conflicts was near an all-time high in the state.

Spring brings hungry bears out of their winter dens, where they have lost more than half of their body weight. They look for high-value food for the least expenditure of energy.

Negri recommends being “bear smart” to avoid encounters with black bears hunting for food in campsites and more populated areas.

Bear food includes birdseed. Years ago I saw a photograph of a bird feeder full of black-oil sunflower seeds in the grasp of a standing black bear on the Long Beach Peninsula.

“People don’t realize that birdseed is high in protein and fat that attracts bears. They love it. Bring it down at night,” Negri said.

Last year, 23 bear cubs were orphaned because their mothers had to be killed after becoming acclimated to human food. Humans contributed to their deaths.

Here are other bear facts from the grizzly bear project:

Black bears can find accessible food in many places: porches, sheds, garages, garbage cans, barbecues, kennels and bird feeders. Keep garbage indoors until pickup, remove even hummingbird feeders at night April through November, and clean barbecue grills after every use.

Establish a clean camp free from odors that might attract bears. Avoid camping next to trails or streams because wildlife uses these as travel routes. Avoid camping near berries, and locate your food and cook area at least 100 yards downwind from your tent.

Do not bring food or nonfood items with odor into your camp, including chocolate, candy, toothpaste, deodorant and insect repellent.

Place food in bear- resistant storage containers or store it in your vehicle.

When hiking, talk or sing as you walk, especially in dense brush where visibility is limited, near running water or when the wind is in your face. Bears may feel threatened if surprised.

That’s one surprise you’d better skip.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or


One Response to “Keep safety in mind when out in bear country”

  1. Grizzly Bear Hunting Videos | | FISHING WORLDFISHING WORLD Says:

    […] bears hunting for food in campsites and more populated areas. Bear food includes birdseed. … .. Share and Enjoy: Posted Sep 27 , 2011 Categorized: Hunting Videos Tagged: Bear, Grizzly, […]

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