Be bear aware as you venture into the outdoors, By JIM BLOW, West Yellowstone News Online

I have a different view on why so many bears are being seen in areas where they have not been seen before. I do believe there are more grizzly bears in this area than there were when the grizzly was first listed under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. I believe that there may be about 4-500 grizzly bears in this area this year but even if there are 600 grizzlies in the Yellowstone Ecosystem I view that as a small population, vulnerable to the parameters of a small population.

I also get frustraited when agencies run away from their own data…I see that as definitely happening to Yellowstone grizzlies now…on whitebark pine data especially.

No matter what my viewpoint bears need to be planned for if you spend a lot of times outdoors in bear country especially at certain times of the year like spring.

Posted on May 22, 2011
by Jim Blow
When you recreate in and around forests, you can expect to see a lot of wildlife.

And in the Yellowstone and Gallatin Forest areas that definitely includes the chance of seeing a bear.

Viewing bears at a distance can be awe inspiring of the beauty of bears. But being too close to bears can turn a hiking or camping trip into an opportunity for dangerous conflict.

There are healthy populations of both grizzly and black bears living in the backcountry, both Yellowstone National Park and the Gallatin National Forest advise recreationists. So when people recreate in or along the edge of the backcountry, the chances for human-bear conflicts rise.

Several grizzly attacks that turned deadly occurred in the Yellowstone area last year along the northeast edge of Yellowstone National Park. They were rare occurrences and certainly not likely, but they do remind all recreationists of the risk they take when heading into the backcountry.

This spring, a bear mauling was reported along Deer Creek, not far from Big Sky in the Gallatin National Forest. It was a classic case of two hikers coming upon bears on a trail, but this time with an elk involved.

The hikers, who survived the encounter with a bite mark to prove it, said they came upon a young grizzly bear chasing an elk down a trail. When the young bear saw the hikers, it stood up on its rear legs.

Coming up behind it, a grizzly sow saw her cub standing up on two legs and shifted into immediate defensive mode. The sow bit the woman as she tried to climb up a tree, and then bit the man when he attempted to ward off the bear.

Wildlife officials suggested that the sow didn’t do as much damage as it could have done and was simply reacting as all sows do when something or someone is perceived to be threatening or too close to their cub.

Although the risk of an encounter with a bear is low, there are no guarantees of your safety. Bears are unpredictable animals and can pose a serious danger.

To minimize your chances of a bear encounter or conflict:

— Hike in pairs at least, and in areas of high bear concentration, hiking in groups of four or more is advised.

— Don’t hike after dark.

— Be aware of your environment. Look for bear sign, tracks, and scat along the trail. Notice if the tracks are going in your direction, or the opposite direction, and if there are small cub-size tracks along with adult tracks. Fresh claw marks on trees, overturned stumps and rocks, and carcasses or buried kills are also signs that bears have been in the area. Depending on what you see, it might be wise to consider retreating or re-routing your hike.

— Make noise while you hike, especially when rounding blind corners and entering forested or thickly vegetated areas. An occasional shout can alert a bear to your presence, giving it the opportunity to go the other way. This lessens the chance of sudden encounters, which are the cause of most bear-caused human injuries in the forest. Use caution where vision is obstructed.

— Avoid carcasses. Bears often defend this source of food.

— Keep a clean camp and follow proper food storage requirements. Scented items, food, and cooking items should be kept well away from your sleeping area. Consider using dried foods and avoid items with strong odors.

Be prepared to

meet a bear

Nobody plans to come upon a bear and most people probably never will. But it’s important for everyone who recreates in the forest to be prepared for what happens when you meet a bear.

Above all, do not run, yell, or panic. Bears can run over 30 miles per hour, or 44 feet per second, faster than Olympic sprinters. Running may elicit an attack from otherwise non-aggressive bears.

If the bear is unaware of you, detour away from the bear. If the bear is aware of you and nearby, but has not acted aggressively, slowly back away.

Assess your situation. If you can leave the area unobtrusively, do so, or retreat to a safe distance and wait for the bear to move on.

Tree climbing to avoid bears is popular advice but not very practical in many circumstances. All black bears, all grizzly cubs, and some adult grizzlies can climb trees. Running to a tree may provoke an otherwise uncertain bear to chase you.

Some bears will bluff their way out of a threatening situation by charging, then veering off or stopping abruptly at the last second. Bear experts generally recommend standing still until the bear stops and then slowly backing away.

Should you surprise a bear at close range and the bear actually charges you, this is the time to use your pepper spray and/or play dead.

Drop to the ground face down, tucking your head and wrapping your arms around the back of your neck. Do not struggle. When the bear decides you are not a threat, it will most likely leave you alone. Do not move until you are sure the bear has left the area.

There continues to be much discussion over the use of pepper spray to deter a charging bear. It has been shown to be effective in many cases, however, do not let it give you a false sense of security.

The bottom line is keep bear spray handy and available, not in the bottom of your pack or the trunk of your car.

Food storage

If a wild animal consumes human food or garbage even once, the chances are high that it will associate humans with food for the rest of its life.

This creates a dangerous situation for both humans and wildlife and is why it is so vitally important that proper food storage precautions be taken.

Food storage is required on much of the Gallatin National Forest. Food storage requires that food, garbage, animal feed, animal carcasses, and any other attractants be kept unavailable to wildlife. Methods for this would include storing attractants in vehicle trunks in campgrounds, or using animal-resistant containers, or suspending food above the ground from tree branches or food poles in the backcountry.

For more information on food storage and keeping a clean camp, please contact any ranger station.

Remember to keep the “wild” in wildlife.


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