Bears: Understanding Furry Friends


With bear season on the horizon, and warm weather coming back into the north, it is important to know how to understand them when you encounter a large furry friend, when on a hike, or rummaging through the garbage. For a long time it was understood that the only predictable thing about a bear’s actions is that they will be unpredictable. However, this was actually just due to human’s misunderstanding of bears. Bears can actually be quite predictable, and certain actions may be able to alert hikers or campers of dangerous behavior.

Though bear attacks are rare, bear encounters are more frequent. A person is actually ten times more likely to be killed by a dog. Grizzly Bay found that one human out of 16,000 murder another person. In comparison, one grizzly bear out of every 50,000 kills someone and only one black bear out of one million do. In the past thirty-two years Yellowstone National Park has reported only having forty-three bear attacks. However, people who frequently hike, camp, fish, or backpack, have a high chance of encountering a bear.

Do not fear: These animals have never “craved” human meat. In fact, meat in general has never been a primary food source for bears. Humans are predators just as our furry friends, the bears. People could choose to eat any meat they want, being at the top of the “food chain.” People choose to eat the things they grew up eating. American humans enjoy chicken, beef, pig, and not cat, pigeon, or dog. Those meats may be readily available, but people will not go looking to eat them. The same goes for bears. Though some bears follow more of a carnivorous diet, most eat a balance of plants, fish, insects, and small animals. Bears often get 90 percent of their nutrition from plants, and meat supplements that. These are the foods that these animals have been trained to eat, and are the most easily accessible to them. Unless a bear feels threatened by a person, they are not likely to seek them out and eat them. Plants are a much more reliable food source than human meat.

The Get Bear Smart Society released a study pertaining to human foods being fed to bears. Human food that has been left out will attract nearby bears. This is where campers get into trouble. It is important for the safety of everyone who visits that campground to keep food away from bears. Never keep food in your tent, or in a cooler even if it is locked. It is safest to hang coolers high in trees if possible. Otherwise, keeping it in the car is a safe alternative. Food-conditioned bears are those who come back to places where they have rummaged through garbage cans. Eventually these bears can become a nuisance and must be put down.

Many bear attacks are said to be initiated by the human not having a respect for the great animal. When a hiker comes into contact with a bear, it is important not to run away. The bear will take that as a sign that you are food and will chase you down. This is because the bears vision is not as astute as it’s sense of smell. Humans need to give ample time for the bear to catch their scent. Once the bear realizes that the invader of their end of the wood is human, they are likely to leave the scene. However, if the bear does approach a hiker, the hiker should make themselves as large as possible by stretching their arms over their head. The hiker should also make loud guttural noises in a deep tone. This will show the bear who is in charge of the situation. Bear behavior analysts also say that if a bear charges toward a hiker, the hiker should continue to keep their ground. Some even say that pepper spray is effective at deterring a bear when used at a distance of six meters. As long as hikers and campers understand bears, Earth’s furry friends, there will be nothing to worry about when hitting the trails this spring season.

By Joshua Shane

National Park Service
Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources
Grizzly Bay


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