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What if a bear approaches you? - UPDATE June 17, 2020

A question I got recently was: What can a person do if he or she is hiking and is approached by a bear? That would be very unusual because even in this community that has fed bears for decades, BrambleBramblewe found that many learned to accept a person in a usual feeding area but nearly all, even the bears we walked with for thousands of hours, melted into the forest when a hiker appeared and did not give the verbal routine that told these bears they were safe. But think of a bell-shaped curve. There could be an outlier that is so calm and trusting that he or she could go beyond the norm.

Just as I was writing that, Lorie came and told me that Ursula was here. It is her first visit of the year. Her yearlings are off on their own and she might have mated already and is here to give her body a boost toward a successful pregnancy. If any bear would be calm and trusting, it would be her. When I first met her in the den where she was born, Shadow was off scouting the area where she would lead her cubs the next day. I touched noses with her, and we breathed back and forth together for several seconds. She was still in her critical socialization period, which meant she was still open to trusting strangers. Now, 15 years later, she still begins the year by touching noses. I don’t know how she immediately knew it was me, but I haven’t taken a bath for a couple days and I did say a couple words. Maybe she recognizes me by sight. Whatever it was, she immediately put her nose to mine for a couple seconds. She has never sought my company for play or companionship. She is always just doing her job of putting away nutrients for a successful life. In this context, the interesting thing is that in her 15 years she has never generated a bear complaint and to my knowledge has never gone up to anyone for food other than at one of the feeding stations she has known most of her life. The picture shows her rich golden muzzle.UrsulaUrsula

Back to what to do when being approached by a bear. The question was asked by a woman who walks her dog in an area that has bears and carries a pistol just in case. My advice is to carry a little 1.5-ounce can of Halt pepper spray for confidence. For something different for a bear that has seen everything, maybe also carry a big, black plastic bag to flap up and down using two hands as the plastic swishes and crackles. Bears run from it. If a bear dares to approach someone out of the blue, it is good to give it a taste of the unexpected and teach it not to scare people with a fearsome plastic bag and a few drops of harmless but briefly burning capsaicin in an eye or two. It could save the bear’s life while giving the person a new confidence and willingness to coexist with these often misunderstood animals. The good thing about Halt is that it shoots a stream like a squirt gun for maybe 20 feet with minimum chance of it blowing back on the person, which the larger cans that shoot a fog can do.

 Halt is what I used to do the first face to face tests of how bears react to pepper spray back in the early 1980’s. They didn’t go away mad, they just went away—fast.

Today, it got up to around 90 degrees and the bears needed a treat. Mike and Lorie filled the tub. The first taker was yearling male Bramble, son of Donna. With no competition, he felt free to get in the tub for three different baths. I hope Ursula finds it, too.

Thank you for all you do.
Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center

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