The bears are out and I had already two peaceful encounters with them.
Moving from a highly populated environment as the San Francisco Bay Area to bear country made me a bit uncomfortable at first. It didn't help to hear all the horror stories of mauled hikers, killed joggers and campers that got eaten by a bear overnight.
And sure enough in our first fall here a young black bear showed up one morning and shook the chicken coop like a he wanted to shake out the chickens feather by feather. For one I realized that this chicken coop would not survive here and started to build what now is called "Fort Chicks" but what really surprised me was how easily the bear was chased away.
There is a lot of information out there and there also are a lot of "stories" out there. I stumbled over the same kind of unfounded fear towards a wild animal I encounter often in people when talking about wolves. As the wolves, bears seem to have an unjustified bad reputation.
After doing some research and talking to people I just got more and more confused, I just didn't want to believe a close bear encounter would most always have to end deadly either for you or for the bear.
Luckily right then I found a bright yellow book...
seriously, at the very first it was the color that got my attention...called Bears Without Fear. Ha, I thought, here we go, it is possible. Then I recognized that it was written by Kevin van Tighem, an award-winning author that I highly respect after I read his book "The Homeward Wolf", and bought it right away. In Bears Without Fear Kevin van Tighem accomplished to take away my fear and replace it with a deeper understanding of the nature of bears. For me it boils down to three simple but important factors: Respect the bear, respect bear habitat and be prepared.
For this months conservation tip I want to bring some essential tools together as a reminder for those of us who live here and as a guide for friends and others who might travel to bear country.
Household garbage is the single biggest killer of bears (2). If bears get used to "easy" food they eventually will become problem bears and will have to be destroyed! That sounds very straight forward, but you won't believe how many people here still leave their garbage out. Makes me want to pull out my hair sometimes.
If you travel, make sure you use the bear safe garbage containers and don't just put your bag next to it. And please, pretty please, don't feed the bears...a fed bear is a dead bear...
Who would feed bears you ask? Well have a look at this facebook post.(4)
Living in bear country needs a bit more care. Make sure livestock food is out of reach and don't feed your pets outside, or at least take the pet food inside after feeding. Have sturdy enclosures for your small animals. After that bear shake I mentioned above I built a really sturdy coop. Meanwhile though I put the smaller chicken coop within the electric fence of the horse pasture. To make sure the little black bear would respect the fence I put tinfoil, lathered with peanut butter on the wire. An electric fence might have no effect through the bears thick fur but will for sure get its attention when sniffing with its delicate nose on the peanut butter tinfoil. This also works well for fruit trees, which nevertheless should be picked as soon as the fruit ripens to avoid attracting bears.
Keep your BBQ clean and consider storing it inside.
When hiking in the back country, consider the advice on this sign and
inform yourself about the local bears, where do they hang out, where to take extra care. Although I have a bear bell on my camera backpack I recently learned it's high tone might not carry far enough, so talk, laugh and sing while hiking where visibility is poor...any bear that hears me singing will be running for it's life...;-). Carry a capsicum-pepper bear spray with you, know how to use it and have it easily accessible. Check the expiration day on your spray and always have a current one. Try to keep the wind at your back, so that the bear can smell you. Be aware of your surroundings, is there bear scat on the path? Can you smell a rotten carcass or see birds circling? Take a detour or retreat and never approach a dead animal.
Should you encounter a bear, get your bear spray ready, hold your ground, talk to him in a loud low voice, avoiding eye contact. Once the bear realizes you are no threat he will loose interest at which time you should slowly back away, carefully watching the bear. In case the bear charges at you, make yourself bigger by waving your arms and should the bear come closer than 5-10 meters, deploy your bear spray, aiming from the ground up to create a wall between you and the bear. (3)
Enjoy the great outdoors and if you need some vacation literature, I can recommend a good book, bright yellow.....
Links to more info and the bright yellow book:
(1) Kevin van Tighem, Bears Without Fear
(2) BC Ministry of Environment, Get Bear Aware
(3) WildSafeBC, Black Bears
(4) facebook post from Jeff Bingham via Alex Preston, May 19th, 2015