VIDEO: “Top 10″ Bear Safety Tips

Posted In: "How To", Alaska, Blog, National Parks, Safety, Video, Wildlife, Yellowstone

Bears are an ongoing topic of interest for many of us who camp. I often joke about the prospects of being killed and eaten by a bear. But hey, it does actually happen to a few people every year. It certainly would be a terrifying way to die. It must rank up there with shark attack and plane crash on the fear scale.

I’ll never forget my first few days working in Yellowstone National Park. The year was 1991. I arrived early in the season (late April if memory serves) to unpack and set up the dining hall at Canyon Lodge. Lake Yellowstone was frozen, and snow drifts still existed throughout the park. Tourists had not yet arrived, so the park hiking trails were noticeably quiet places. Yet the bears had emerged from their dens. If you have any sense of self preservation, when hiking a quiet trail in bear country, you quickly accept that you are no longer on top of the local food chain. I always feared rounding a corner on a hiking trail and coming across a grizzly in a surprise encounter. Thankfully, this never happened to me.

Then there were our days of tent camping in Yellowstone. Frankly, every tent camper with a grain of common sense has bear safety in mind. When the campfire is put out and the tent is zipped shut for the last time in the evening, you’d better be thinking just a bit about bears. In a tent, you are almost entirely exposed to whatever bear may happen across your path. “Any bear that enters your tent at night does not have good intentions,” says Kerry Gunther of the National Park Service. “In that scenario, you definitely want to fight back.”

Sure, we all have an instinctive fear of bears. Yet with each passing year I grow a little more sensitive to the needs of our furry friends in the wild. Often bear lives are jeopardized by humans who foolishly misbehave in their presence. Many bears are killed by humans every year. In addition to those that fall prey to hunters, some bears are deemed “nuisance bears” by the National Park Service. Nuisance bears, sadly, are often euthanized. Sometimes nuisance behavior is created and reinforced by humans who misbehave. As the saying goes, a fed bear is a dead bear.

When it came time to put together a video about bears, I rather enjoyed reviewing some of the footage that we’ve shot over the years. We’ve seen a plethora of bears throughout North America. As you might expect, the majority of our sightings have happened in the Western states of Wyoming and Montana, and in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Yukon Territory.

But in recent years, black bear populations have been growing in areas you might not expect, like Florida and New England. Believe it or not, black bear sightings have become commonplace along the Florida panhandle, where they rummage through dumpsters and landfills like large raccoons.

This video has several goals. In addition to sharing some fun footage of bears (including a few bear observers acting like idiots), we want to discuss wise methods of interacting with these incredible creatures.

It never fails. Whenever we see a bear in a public place like a national park, we inevitably see a few people who misbehave. I guess the worst form of misbehavior would be to carelessly approach a wild grizzly bear in a manner that could result in one’s death. But other misbehavior might be to feed a wild bear (which will inevitably result in the bear’s death). Thankfully, we had no footage of wild bears being fed by humans.

Lest you think that we’re sounding like a bunch of spoilsports, please remember that I love bears and bear sightings. Nothing gets my pulse pumping like a wild bear encounter. My informal wildlife viewing policy is to stop for every bear we see. I can’t help it; I simply find bears fascinating. Thus I am sympathetic to all of those city slicker tourists who get excited when seeing bears in the wild. I get excited too, and am the first to break out my camera gear. The idea here is to have enjoyable encounters with bears.

We’re proud that this video includes commentary by Kerry Gunther of the National Park Service. Mr. Gunther is the chief bear management biologist at Yellowstone National Park. In my book, that makes him one of the world’s foremost experts on bear behavior. When Mr. Gunther speaks, I hope we all listen — and heed his sage advice.

The odds of being killed by a bear are incredibly remote (probably one in 30 million, or something similar). There’s no reason to be deathly afraid of bears. Instead, strive to be respectful of bears. Armed with the right knowledge, even a surprise encounter with a bear need not end in disaster.

In the video we reference Counter Assault bear spray. You can see the can that we carry here: While I wish this stuff was less expensive, it delivers some wonderful peace of mind when hiking. Even if you never use the bear spray, you will be happy you have it on the hiking trail.