Hikers need to reconcile two contradictory ideas before hiking in bear country: The odds of being injured by bears are quite remote. But you also can’t ignore the potential for bear attacks. The stakes are simply too high, so it’s essential to follow bear safety tips.
The potential for bear encounters is also increasing. More people are out on trails and development along the wildland-urban interface has infringed on bear habitat, and changing patterns in bear behavior are bringing the animals closer to populated areas than ever before.
North America is home to three species of bears. We’ll skip polar bears (most Placitans aren’t likely to head out for a day hike in the Artic) and grizzlies (the last known grizzly in the Sandias was killed in 1910) and talk about black bears. Placitas is home to black bears, seen often in the fall when they descend on fruit trees, gardens and trash cans in an effort to bulk up before hibernation. You are at risk of encountering one anytime you are hiking in the Sandias. They are not normally aggressive unless provoked or protecting their young.
Range: With an estimated population of 300,000 animals in the U.S. across 40 states, black bears are much more numerous and widely distributed than grizzlies.
Size: Larger males can weigh more than 500 pounds but most average between 150-300 pounds.
Color: Despite their name, black bears have great color variation. Cinnamon-colored black bears are not unusual and many also have prominent white chest patches.
Distinguishing Traits: Light-colored chest patches. Prominent ears and more of a direct line from forehead to the tip of the nose than grizzlies. Grizzlies have a much more defined brow.
• Avoiding Bear Attacks
Be bear aware. Bears frequently use hiking trails, so pay attention and look for signs of recent activity: clean pawprints, scat, and trees with fresh claw marks. Avoid any carcasses you may come upon because bears will defend their kills.
Hike at safe times. Chances of bear encounters are more likely around dawn and dusk.
Make your presence known. Try not to surprise bears. Bear country is one place where you need to break the rules of trail etiquette. Wear bear bells, blow a whistle, sing, and clap your hands as you hike down the trail.
Hike in a group. When Banff National Park imposed strict seasonal rules for hiking in bear country, it required visitors to stay in tight groups of at least four people. Be sure to keep children close to you at all times.
Be cautious in areas of dense vegetation. Use extra care (and make extra noise) in trail sections with limited visibility and hearing. Dense thickets, especially areas with a heavy concentration of berries, are prime bear habitat. There’s also a chance that you may surprise a bear as you round a bend. And when bears are feeding along streams, the noise of rushing water may make it harder for them to hear you.
Leave the dog at home (or keep it on a leash). Your dog may try to protect you and will confront a bear farther up on the trail. If there’s a chase, your dog can easily lead the bear right back to your group.
Carry bear spray. Bear spray is a last resort defense and no substitute for following basic bear safety guidelines. Be sure to also familiarize yourself with how the spray canister works before you head out.
• Bear Encounters
Stay calm. If the bear hasn’t noticed you, try to leave the area. Speak quietly and don’t make threatening gestures or do anything else that may provoke the bear. Never approach a bear for a closer look or a photograph.
Back away. Keep your eyes on the bear but avoid direct eye contact. Bears may consider that aggressive behavior. Waving your arms is okay.
Never feed bears. Bears are omnivorous eating machines and are constantly searching for food. If you put out food so you can observe bears, they may begin to associate humans with feeding. That can mean serious problems for other people and for the bear too. As the saying goes, “A fed bear is a dead bear” because wildlife officials often kill bears that get into the habit of approaching humans for food.
Watch out for cubs. The most dangerous bear encounter is with a mother defending her cubs.
Don’t run. Bears can reach speeds of 35 mph. That’s more than 500 feet in 10 seconds. Usain Bolt couldn’t outrun a charging bear, so neither can you.
Look for warning signs. Stomping of feet, swaying, woofing, clacking of jaws, ears flattened against the head, and a steady glare are all possible precursors of an attack. But a bear rearing up on its hind legs is more a sign of curiosity than a hint of imminent aggression.
• How to Survive an Attack
Don’t panic. Bears often try to intimidate with bluff charges. And they can certainly be quite intimidating. Bears will run at full speed then peel off or come to a halt—sometimes within 10 feet of you. Some experts suggest throwing an object to the ground to distract a charging bear. But keep your daypack on because it might provide a bit of protection if the bear does attack.
Fight back against black bears. Use your hands, camera, rocks, or anything else you can reach to defend yourself against black bears. The strategy is similar to how you would handle a mountain lion attack because black bears are much more easily scared off than grizzlies.
Reproduced from About Sports Link to original article