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Bear Safety

Bears may be encountered throughout many parks during the summer months. Bears are not tame, gentle or cuddly; they are unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

Although most bears are simply travelling through and make every effort to avoid humans, a bag of garbage or some unattended food on a picnic table may be irresistible to their keen sense of smell.

A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear

Don't be a contributor to food-conditioning.

Bears that scavenge food begin to associate food with humans, and become "food-conditioned." Food-conditioned bears lose their natural fear of humans and become a threat to park visitors as they roam through the park in search of an easy meal.

There is little or no chance of correcting a food-conditioned bear and Park Rangers are forced to destroy them when they become aggressive towards humans.

Avoiding Dangerous Encounters with Bears

There are some simple precautions you must take to prevent the food-conditioning of bears and avoid dangerous bear encounters.

  • Never feed or approach bears or other wildlife.
  • Reduce or eliminate odours that attract bears.  At the campground, store food in air-tight containers in your RV or car trunk.
  • Bear caches must be used if they are available at the park.
  • Pack out all your garbage. Store garbage with your food, out of reach of bears. Do not bury garbage or throw it into pit toilets. Only paper and wood may be burned: plastics, tinfoil, and food items do not burn completely and the remains will attract bears (besides creating an unsightly mess). Storing garbage in bear-proof containers is recommended.
  • Cook and eat well away from your tent.
  • Clean up immediately and thoroughly. Never leave cooking utensils, coolers, grease or dish water lying around. Dispose of dish water by straining it and then throwing it into a gray water pit or pit toilet. Solids should be packed out with the garbage.
  • The odours of cosmetics, toothpaste and insect repellent can attract bears. These should be stored out of reach with your food and garbage, never in your tent. Leave strongly perfumed items at home.
  • Obey all closures and warnings.

When Fishing

Fish smells are a strong attractant for bears.

  • Do not store food or bait in your tent and keep your campsite clean.
  • Giving bears plenty of room. Leave your fishing spot if a bear is in the river and give them plenty of space. If approached by a bear, reel in, and leave the area. Cut your line if playing a fish. You may return to your fishing spot when it is safe to do so.
  • Bleed and clean your catch in the stream, not at your campsite, and throw offal into deep or fast moving water.
  • Do not handle roe used for bait on picnic tables. Wash your hands afterwards, do not wipe on clothing.
  • Do not build fires or cook by the river's edge.

While staying in Bear Country

  • Always keep children nearby and in sight.
  • Always sleep in a tent - not under the stars.
  • Obey all park regulations, stay on designated trails and comply with posted warnings.
  • Hike portages and trails as a group. Solo hiking is not advised — you reduce the risk of an attack by traveling together as a group. Do not let children wander.
  • Keep pets leashed. If possible, keep pets at home. Free-running pets can anger a bear and provoke an attack.

Reduce the chance of surprising a bear.

  • Always check ahead for bears in the distance. If one is spotted, make a wide detour and leave the area immediately.
  • Make warning noises and loud sounds.
  • Watch for bear sign: tracks, droppings, overturned rocks, rotten trees torn apart, clawed, bitten or rubbed trees, bear trails, fresh diggings or trampled vegetation.

Stay clear of dead wildlife.

  • Take note of signs that may indicate carrion - such as circling crows or ravens, or the smell of rotting meat.
  • Carcasses attract bears. Leave the area immediately!
  • Report the location of dead wildlife to Park staff.

If you have an encounter with a bear, please leave the area immediately and report it to park staff as soon as possible.

Bear pepper sprays have been effective in deterring some bear attacks. However, do not use them as a substitute for safe practices in bear country. Avoidance is still your best bet.

Bear Facts

  • Bears are as fast as racehorses, on the flats, uphill or downhill
  • Bears are strong swimmers.
  • Bears have good eyesight, good hearing, and an acute sense of smell.
  • All black bears and young grizzlies are agile tree climbers; mature grizzlies are poor climbers, but they have a reach up to 4 metres.
  • If a bear is standing up it is usually trying to identify you. Talk softly so it knows what you are. Move away, keeping it in view. Do not make direct eye contact.

How to Identify a Bear

Identifying bears is important if you are ever approached by one.

Black Bear (Ursus americanus Pallas)

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Colour: Varies. Black, brown, cinnamon or blond, often with a white patch on the chest or at the throat.

Height: Approximately 90 cm at the shoulder.

Weight: 57 kg to more than 270 kg. Females are usually smaller than males.

Characteristics:  Straight face profile; short, curved claws; barely noticeable shoulder hump

Habitat: Prefers forested areas with low-growing plants and berry-producing shrubs (e.g. small forest openings, stream or lake edges, open forest).

Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis Ord)

Colour: Varies. Black (rare), brown or blond. Fur often white-tipped or "grizzled".Light-coloured patches may occur around neck, shoulders and on rear flanks.

Height: Slightly above one metre at shoulder; 1.8 to 2.0 metres when erect.

Weight: 200 kg to more than 450 kg. Females are usually smaller than males.

Characteristics:  Dished or concave face long; curved claws; prominent shoulder hump

Habitat: Semi-open spaces preferred. High country in late summer and early fall; valley bottoms late fall and spring.

What to do if you see a Bear

If It Does Not Approach

  • If spotted in the distance, do not approach the bear. Make a wide detour or leave the area immediately.   Report your sighting to Park Staff at the first opportunity. 
  • If you are at close range, do not approach the bear.  Remain calm, keep it in view.  Avoid direct eye contact.  Move away without running.  Report the sighting to Park Staff.

If the Bear Approaches

  • If the bear is standing up, it is usually trying to identify you.  Talk softly so it knows what you are.  If it is snapping its jaws, lowering its head, flattening its ears, growling or making 'woofing' signs, it is displaying aggression.
  • Do not run unless you are very close to a secure place.  Move away, keeping it in view.  Avoid direct eye contact.  Dropping your pack or an object may distract it to give you more time.  If it is a grizzly, consider climbing a tree. 

What to do if a Bear Attacks

Your response depends on the species and whether the bear is being defensive or offensive.  Bears sometimes bluff their way out of a confrontation by charging then turning away at the last moment.  Generally, the response is to do nothing to threaten or further arouse the bear.  While fighting back usually increases the intensity of an attack, it may cause the bear to leave. 

Every encounter is unique and the following are offered as guidelines only to deal with an unpredictable animal and potentially complex situations.

Grizzly Attacks From Surprise (defensive)

  • Do nothing to threaten or further arouse the bear.
  • Play dead.  Assume the 'cannonball position' with hands clasped behind neck and face buried in knees.
  • Do not move until the bear leaves the area.  Such attacks seldom last beyond a few minutes.

Black Bear Attacks From Surprise (defensive)

  • Playing dead is not appropriate.  Try to retreat from the attack.

Grizzly or Black Bear Attacks Offensively (including stalking you or when you are sleeping)

  • Do not play dead.  Try to escape to a secure place (car or building) or climb a tree unless it is a black bear.  If you have no other option, try to intimidate the bear with deterrents or weapons such as tree branches or rocks.

Grizzly or Black Bear Attacking For Your Food

  • Abandon the food.  Leave the area.
  • Do not deal with a problem bear unless it is an emergency.