Outdoor Recreation Enthusiasts Learn Bear Safety

by Hallie Sykes, Farmer Frog Garden Educator, Woodland Park Zoo Advanced Inquiry Masters Degree Program

On a chilly, yet sunny, spring afternoon this April a dozen community members gathered to learn how to share the landscape with black and grizzly bears in a workshop hosted by Western Wildlife Outreach. The workshop featured Zoe Hanley, Senior NW Representative at Defenders of Wildlife, whose work involves promoting non-lethal deterrents as a tool to prevent gray wolf depredation on livestock. Defenders is also involved with supporting grizzly bear coexistence in the North Cascades and Selkirk ranges of Washington state.

The workshop was held at Farmer Frog in the Paradise Valley Conservation Area which is 700-acres of undeveloped land set aside to protect the headwaters of Bear Creek, one of the most productive wild salmon streams left in Western Washington. This landscape provides a refuge for bears, cougars, coyote, bobcat, deer and other wildlife.

Western Wildlife Outreach planned the training to educate people about bear biology, black and grizzly bear identification, how to handle bear encounters, and securing bear attractants around the home and campsite.

Bear Safety & Coexistence Workshop props: bear safety education materials, a bear-proof storage can, bear tracks, skull and scat example, a farm diorama. Photo credit: Hallie Sykes

Participants gathered eagerly and several shared their bear stories.

“I have bears every year,” said Jeanne Weiss, a resident of the area surrounding Paradise Valley. Jeanne knows that we are living alongside wild animals because she documents them. “We have cameras and we’ve seen bears, coyotes, bobcats, deer, cougars.”

She came to the workshop hoping to learn strategies to deal with bears visiting her unfenced backyard where her dogs some times run into them. Hanley mentioned that half of bear encounters in WA state are caused by off leash dogs because the bear ends up chasing the dog back to the human. Hanley reassured Jeanne that bear spray and the workshop training would be a key tool for handling such an encounter in the future.

Adel Krupp, who attended the workshop with her two teenagers, also wanted to learn how to coexist with wildlife at home. The only participant this day with livestock (chickens) she got some key advice from Hanley about using a three strand electric fence to surround the coop, including the top of it, as a deterrent to bears and other wildlife.

Krupp will also follow Hanley’s advice to take down the bird feeders from April to November when bears go into denning season. Winter is actually the only time when song birds are in need of food supplementation to help get through the winter months participants learned.

Zoe Hanley compares the track patterns of a Kodiak grizzly bear to a black bear. The grizzly track she is holding is much larger than grizzlies in Washington, which is home to less than a dozen in the easter side of the state. An encounter with one of Washington’s 20,000 black bears is much more likely. Photo credit: Hallie Sykes

Bear encounters are more likely to occur during the months of March through November when bears are working to consume calories to make it through their denning/hibernation season. An encounter with a bear has significant risks for people and pets and also bears themselves. If they become a nuisance the bear must be trapped, relocated or even killed if they’ve become habituated to human provided food sources.

“It’s a privilege to see them but we don’t want to be drawing wild animals in close to our homes. When they get acclimated to human foods that’s when bears get killed,” said Hanley.

While workshop participants generally didn’t have a lot of concerns themselves about bears, several expressed they felt people in their community were more afraid of bears than they needed to be. Bear attacks are extremely rare. Only 2-5 people die per year in all of North America.

Hanley stated the best thing to do is try not to surprise the bear. A surprised bear may display behaviors such as huffing, teeth clacking, rocking on legs, and even a fake-out “bluff charge” where they sprint and then stop short. Other behaviors you might witness during a bear encounter include more of a curious stance on their hind legs (used when a bear wants to get a better look at something).

If either a black or grizzly bear gets too close to you – stand your ground!

Have bear spray ready, don’t turn your back or run, back up slowly. If the bear keeps approaching deploy the bear spray by aiming it at the ground about eight feet in front of you. Spray to create a wall of the deterrent in front of you in order to stop the bear’s forward movement. In the rare case that doesn’t work and the bear attacks, fight back.

Other tips to avoid these situations are: make noise on the trail, keep children close in sight, hike with dogs on leash, don’t approach dead animals, carry bear spray, keep it at hand and know how to use it. At your campsite don’t store food or smelly things like deodorant in your tent. Pack it in, pack it out.

After learning about minimizing attractants, learning about bear behavior and safety tips for dealing with them, participants went out behind the barn to practice using bear spray. Hanley recommends carrying two bear spray canisters when backpacking because the spray can be exhausted after three bursts of 2-3 second sprays.

Workshop participants line up and deploy practice cans of bear spray, aiming at the ground in front of them to create a wall of spice, versus aiming directly at a bear. Photo credit: Lynn Okita

Workshop attendees appreciated the opportunity to learn a new skill and got to take home a free can of bear spray donated by Counter Assault. They also appreciated learning what to do if bear spray gets in their own eyes as well.

Water, Air, and Time were the three first aid words to remember.

Rinse with water and don’t rub your eyes since the grains of capsaicin can aggravate the eye if rubbed. Allow your eyes to use tears to move the spray out. Keep them open and exposed to the air. In time the discomfort will pass, only lasting for 30 minutes or so.

All of this is a better alternative than a bear attack, which Hanley again mentioned is very rare. Even with her vast experiences in the wilderness she has never had to use bear spray. However, it does provide peace of mind.

To learn more about Bear Identification and Bear Safety, visit these links here on the Western Wildlife Outreach website and join this group of newly empowered community members in promoting awareness and peaceful coexistence with our wild animal neighbors.

Turning Fear of Wildlife into Something Positive

Reprinted from THE FREE PRESS
Fri Jun 16th, 2017

Editors Note: Western Wildlife Outreach has long been warning mountain bike enthusiasts about the need for caution when riding back country trails in bear and/or cougar country. The “need for speed” puts you at greater risk for coming into accidental contact with a large carnivore and surprising them. Surprised animals can react defensively and unpredictably to protect themselves or offspring. Slow it down, and carry bear spray.

WildsafeBC Community Coordinator, Kathy Murray’s journey toward becoming a wildlife expert was inspired by a close encounter with a grizzly bear in Banff National Park, 19 years ago.

On an evening bike ride through the Pipestone Loop Trail, Murray rounded a corner and came face to face with a grizzly sow and her cubs. The bear bluff charged her, stopping three feet in front of her face, with nothing by the bike held in front of her to separate them. The bears dodged around her, and Murray escaped with no injury. This encounter terrified Murray, and deflated her ambition to hike or bike anymore.

Refusing to let fear overcome her love for the outdoors, Murray set out to learn about how humans can coexist with some of natures largest and most fearsome animals.

“I decided to take that fear and turn it into something positive,” she said.

So far this year, there have been many bear sightings, the latest being this past Monday on 4th avenue. Also recently, there was a grizzly spotted on Old Stumpy Trail, and up by the power lines near the Mt. Proctor trails. Murray knows that the summer will soon bring with it lots of people focused on recreating.

“It’s really up to all of us, to be responsible, share the habitat, share the trails,” she said.

The reason for the many bear sightings is due to our heavy snowfall, and cold spring. With little food for the bears in the alpine, they are being forced into the valley bottoms to feed.

Murray believes we can expect to see bears in lower areas for a few more weeks, until the higher areas start to green up.

“People in general have to have a better understanding of bear behaviour,” said Murray. “And a better tolerance, so that we can peacefully co-exist.”

Murray reiterated that it’s extremely important to keep garbage indoors.

“Once bears get a taste of human garbage, human food, and lose their fear of people, it’s pretty much impossible to reverse the process,” she said. “Garbage to bears is like heroin to a crack addict.”

If this happens, the bear becomes what biologists consider a ‘problem’ bear, that we (the public) created.

A grizzly found in town close to a month ago, was relocated 15 kilometres out. The hope is that the bear will become comfortable in their new home, learn to feed and stay put. However this grizzly found its way back to town very soon after.

There are currently several biologists working in the Elk Valley, studying the way grizzly bears use the landscape in the Elk Valley and how they interact with people. They plan on having radio collars on ten sample grizzly bears, in order to track them and gain a better understanding of their activities.

Biologists have been conducting similar studies in the flathead for the past 36 years.

The grizzly which returned to Fernie does have a radio collar, and biologist are monitoring her behaviour. She has not been back after being relocated again.

A previous method of removing bears from an area was translocation, which took bears far away. However even if they were taken hundreds of kilometres away, the bears almost always found their way back again, or they become problem animals in another community.

Murray believes relocation and translocation, “…are not solutions.”

“The best way to keep people safe, prevent human wildlife conflict, and the needless destruction of bears, is to not bait them into the communities in the first place,” said Murray.

With many newcomers in town, Murray believes it is up to the old-time residents to lead by example, keep their garbage locked up, clean up their fruit trees and bring in their bird feeders.

If an individual does not have access to a carport or garage in which to store their garbage between collection days, Murray encourages the use of the 24/7 bear resistant communal bins found at the Fernie Memorial Arena, the Aquatic Centre, and Max Turyk Community Centre.

Since her arrival in Fernie in 2000, Murray has seen a massive increase in trail usage. She believe the high speed and quiet travels puts mountain bikers at risk of animal encounters. When approaching a blind corner, yell or call out, and always carry bear spray.

Murray will be running several sessions throughout the summer, teaching individuals how to properly deploy bear spray. She is currently teaching people at several businesses and schools in the area.

Western Wildlife Outreach Attends Black Bear Release

This week Western Wildlife Outreach staff accompanied Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Officers and the Karelian Bear Dog Team into the field to release four black bear cubs.  A shout out to the folks at PAWS in Lynnwood, WA who do such great work with black bear rehabilitation and making this day possible. And a huge WWOOF! to WDFW’s KBD Team, human and canine!

Rivers, Salmon, Bears and Healthy Forests

What if I told you that the trees are here, in part, because of the salmon? That the trees that shelter and feed the fish, that help build the fish, are themselves built by the fish?” ~ Carl Safina, essayist for Salmon in the Trees

Under the cover of darkness, black bears prowl the banks of the stream, wading out among moss-covered rocks below overhanging branches festooned with drooping lichen. The bears are waiting for the return of their favorite feast, spawning salmon. The salmon are returning guided by mysterious forces that have inexorably drawn them from their ocean home back to the streams where they were born and where they will spawn and die, completing the circle of life. But there is a bigger story that goes beyond the salmon, the river and the bears. It’s a story about the intricate connection between the towering conifer giants of the temperate west-coast rainforests, the hungry bears and the returning salmon.

While it might seem somewhat intuitive that the nutrients and nitrogen provided by salmon are beneficial to aquatic plants and plants growing on the stream banks, it has only been in the last decade that the critical role played by bears, both black bears and grizzlies, in dispersing nutrients from salmon throughout the riparian forest has been identified and recognized as an essential component in maintaining the health of riparian forests.

Beginning with early studies by Tom Reichman in 2000, and continued by Gende, Quinn and other prominent researchers, primarily in British Columbia and Alaska, the ultimate “fate” of salmon carcasses removed from the river by bears has been tracked. One such study examined the transport of the salmon into the forests in three watersheds in Southeastern Alaska over three seasons using tagged sockeye salmon and the ultimate location of the recovered tags to tell the story. The results were surprising: up to 50% of the fish caught and killed by bears, both brown bear and black bear, were transported away from the streams and into the surrounding temperate rainforest. Once the bears have successfully landed a protein-rich fish, they often disappear with the prize deep into the trees in order to avoid competition from other bears or scavengers. Once there, the remains of the fish are scattered through the forest,  along with bear scat.

And now the story really gets interesting. Following up on this initial research regarding nutrient transport into forests, a team of researchers headed up by James Helfield and Robert Naiman of the University of Washington’s College of Forest Resources devised a method to measure the actual amount of marine-derived nitrogen in trees through coring the trees and examining the stable nitrogen isotope ratios of annual growth rings.

Nitrogen availability has been identified as the limiting factor for terrestrial plant growth in riparian ecosystems. The study concluded that trees and shrubs near spawning streams grew three times faster than other control stands, and that salmon-borne, marine-derived nitrogen is the reason why. As riparian forests affect the quality of in-stream habitat through shading, sediment and nutrient filtration, and production of large woody debris (LWD), this fertilization process serves not only to enhance riparian production, but may also act as a positive feedback mechanism by which salmon- borne nutrients improve spawning and rearing habitat for subsequent salmon generations and maintain the long-term productivity of river corridors along the Pacific coast of North America.  And all of this marine-derived nitrogen from salmon is transported and made available to the trees by bears!  

Over millenia bears have been fulfilling this age-old critical role of salmon carcass dispersers, moving nutrients from the stream to the forest, so that riparian trees grow tall and strong, eventually contributing large woody debris to streams, improving spawning and rearing habitat for subsequent salmon generations and maintaining the long-term productivity of river corridors along the Pacific Coast of North America. Its time to give bears there due in the watersheds of the Pacific Northwest as the real kings of the forest.

Bears Are Outsmarting Us, and It Might Kill Them

By CANDICE GAUKEL ANDREWS Reprinted  with permission from the author

We all love our national parks. They are our places of solace and refuge; of natural beauty and outdoor adventure. They afford us the chance to get close to what’s left of what is still wild. Of course, there is an inherent conflict in that. Once we have gotten close to “what is still wild,” we change it forever. That has never been truer than it is with bears. Bears are smart and they learn quickly, and what they’re picking up from contact with us could kill them.

Just two years ago, in the summer of 2013, a female black bear in an area just northeast of Yosemite Valley demonstrated her impressive abilities in cracking open bear canisters, a human invention that is supposedly “bear-proof.” Although no one has seen her in action, apparently she didn’t paw or chew on the containers, as other bears have done in the past. At a campsite where the canisters, filled with food, had been stashed near ground level, she went in at night and moved them to a nearby, 400-foot-high ledge. She then pushed the canisters off it and promptly scrambled down to the cliff’s base to retrieve the goodies.Park personnel had never come across anything like this before. It appears bears are keeping abreast of our innovations to thwart them. And in the end, it will probably kill them.

Today, it’s estimated that there are about 30,000 wild black bears in California.(Editors Note: Washington State has between 20-22,000 black bears and shares some of these same bear/human conflicts) In Yosemite National Park, there could be 300 to 500 black bears. If other bears were to start mimicking the Yosemite Valley female’s behavior, the state’s (and all states’) entire backcountry camping system—a key element of which is bear-proof food canisters—could be undermined. Bears are intelligent, and if one bear picked up that behavior, another could soon follow. It would create a free-for-all on backpackers’ food supplies and would almost certainly lead to bear-human interactions and conflicts.  Because park staffers can’t let that happen, last year they caught the clever bear and placed a GPS collar on her in order to track her movements. They set up extra patrols to haze her and to instruct campers to keep far away from the ledge. The incidents stopped in 2014, but this summer the bear started swiping canisters in the same area again. The park’s wildlife management department may have to pursue more drastic measures: banning campsites in the vicinity of the ledge altogether or euthanizing the bear.

Last August, in a study conducted at the Washington State University (WSU) Bear Research, Education and Conservation Center, eight grizzly bears were tested to see if they could use tools. In an experiment designed by student Alex Waroff, grizzly bears were enticed with a glazed doughnut dangling just out of their reach in their play area on the WSU campus. The researchers place a sawed-off tree stump below the hanging doughnut (which is not part of their normal diet) to see if the bears would use it to stand on to reach the treat. If they did that, then the stump would be turned on its side and moved away to see whether the bears would move it back under the gooey confection.  The study team hopes that this research will help us understand how bears think and that then we can anticipate their moves and alter our practices in the backcountry to keep us and the bears safe—mostly from us.

In the end, the Yosemite bear’s behavior is a reflection of our own. One mistake from one careless camper is all it takes to endanger a smart bear. In reality, as it’s often been said, wildlife management is 95 percent human management.  When animals outsmart us, should they be the ones to suffer? Since it is most often humans who make “problem bears,” should we be the ones that are hazed out of bear areas? Is euthanizing a bear ever the best solution?

Photo 1 ©Candice Gaukel Andrews, Photo 2 ©John T. Andrews, Photo 3 ©Justin R. Gibson

Originally published at http://goodnature.nathab.com/bears-are-outsmarting-us-and-it-might-kill-them/

The Insanity of Not Respecting Nature

by Mike Cavaroc, Free Roaming Photography. Reprinted with permission, September 15, 2015

2015 has so far seen a number of increased bison attacks on people in Yellowstone National Park, but despite what many visitors think, rarely, if ever, is it the animal’s fault.

Most people are surprised to hear that bison are responsible for the most injuries in the park. The cause is almost always the same. Someone who thinks of them as big, dumb and slow animals walks up to one to take a picture with it, ignoring the warning signs the animal is showing, and the bison is forced to its last resort: tossing the person up in the air and breaking several bones in the flight, at the very least. After all, they can sprint over 30mph and are anything but docile.

There have also been multiple bear fatalities in recent years just in Yellowstone. Two completely separate incidents were the result of someone hiking into dense bear areas defiantly leaving bear spray behind, claiming they’ve lived here long enough to know how to behave around a bear. Of course if you know what you’re doing around a bear, you don’t need bear spray, but spray isn’t for people that don’t know what they’re doing around a bear. Bear spray is intended for those rare close encounters that you don’t see coming, what’s ultimately suspected of claiming the lives of those two people.

You would think the increased wildlife-human interactions would lead to more education and understanding about our natural world, but sadly, dangerous narcissism (in more than one way) remains high in wild areas. Just recently, a section of the Colorado Trail was closed because too many people were taking selfies with bears. That’s literally telling the world, the animal included, that you have absolutely no respect for the animal or the environment you’re in. Trying to get as close as you can to a wild animal to make sure it’s visible within the picture is for one reason only: to show your friends that you saw something they didn’t. In that moment, you’re completely detached from the magic of the encounter and reverting to completely unnatural behavior in a vain and futile attempt to 1-up your connections online, and everyone they’re connected to hoping they’ll see as well, thereby putting you in the spotlight. The entire point of the encounter is lost entirely. This is not why wild animals are out there. They’re there to keep ecosystems healthy so that we can hopefully continue to have fresh food and water for decades to come.

What’s missed by blatantly disrespecting nature is a chance to understand yourself better which leads to a more rewarding and fulfilling life. Despite our best efforts to deny it, humans are still animals, and humans need a healthy amount of nature. In fact, multiple studies are beginning to show that children need outdoor exposure to properly develop. This is because our mind and bodies still depend on the natural environment for rest and relaxation. Trying to briefly “escape” to nature only carries the burden of trying to escape, so a true immersion into nature isn’t fully possible. Then, when a wild animal is encountered, the competitiveness to outdo friends is still there, leading to unnatural and dangerous behavior in nature. In fact it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that taking a selfie with a bear, or any wild animal, is a form of insanity. The etymology of the word insanity points to two origins that sum up that behavior quite accurately: “unhealthfullness” and “extreme folly.” I don’t think anyone who actually understands what nature is would argue against that at all.

The narcissism of trying outdo other people is completely misplaced in nature. It’s dangerous not just because you’re putting your own life at risk, but should a bear attack you, no matter how idiotic you were behaving, rules dictate that park or forest officials have to kill the bear. To put another life at risk so you can potentially outdo people you know is unquestionably insanity. Of course they probably don’t know that, but to be so disconnected from nature as to have your main goal be to satisfy narcissism at the sight of such a majestic creature would also qualify. Besides the obvious danger of it here, there’s also the danger of getting completely absorbed in the lifeless circle of not getting to understand or truly experience nature, and therefore yourself. This ultimately leads to a bland and unsatisfying life where the absence of nature is artificially and inadequately compensated for through other means, though never achieving the same result.

People often (semi-)joke that there should be a test before admitting people into wild areas. The sad and ironic truth is that most people would fail that test horribly,but raw and wild nature is exactly what they need to be cured of not understanding the natural world, and therefore, themselves.

Displacing Bear Myths with Bear Facts

written by WWO Intern Jackie Delie, August 2015

We all have, or had, preconceived notions of a bear’s behavior. Bears instill fear, awe, wonder, and curiosity in us. Our perceptions may be the influence of the 1947 campaign “Smokey the Bear” that cleverly markets for the people to save wildlife from forest fires, or the 1961 TV show “The Yogi Bear” that created an image of a musical, funny bear, or it can be the influence of the iconic cuddly teddy bear that was first created in 1902 after President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt and continues to fill our households with childhood memories.    Then there are the sensationalistic stories of ferocious attacks on defenseless hikers or the charging of bears on one’s campsite that lead stories in the media and portray angry bears. However, it is important for us to dispel these myths, based on fear or the idea that bears are cute and approachable, and gain a greater understanding of bear’s behavior so we can peacefully coexist with  these intelligent and captivating creatures.

8 Myths on bears and the facts you may not know:

Myth #1: Bears can’t run downhill.

Fact: Bears can run more than 60 kilometers an hour and they can do it downhill, along a slope or uphill. Never try to outrun a bear!

Myth #2: Bears have poor eyesight.

Fact: Bears see in color and have good vision similar to humans. Their night vision is excellent and they are attuned to detecting movement.

Myth #3: A bear standing on its hind legs is about to charge.

Fact: A bear standing on its hind legs is just trying to better identify what has caught its attention. Bears have an excellent sense of smell through which they get most of their information about their environment. Standing up helps a bear both see and smell better to identify another human or animal.

Myth #4: Once a bear has tasted human-provided food, it won’t eat wild, natural food any more.

Fact: Bears are driven to put on the maximum amount of calories between hibernation cycles. They look for maximum caloric value with least amount of risk. When humans make food such as garbage and pet food easy for bears to aquire, they can overcome their natural reticence and fear of being around humans. Natural foods are actually preferred by bears, but conflicts tend to increase when natural food is at a low point, like the current drought throught the West – a good time to be more vigilant of bear attractants on your property. When all human-provided food is removed,  bears may still snoop around hoping to find some, but they will certainly resume eating natural foods.

Myth #5: If a bear charges you, climb a tree!

Fact: Climbing a tree in this case is a bad idea! All bears can climb trees, and much faster than a human can.  If a bear approaches you aggressively or not,  stand your ground, look big and yell and make noise. That alone in almost all cases will make the bear leave the area.   If the bear or any large carnivore charges, DO NOT RUN. That is just what prey animals do. Bears can outrun, out maneuver and climb faster than humans.  Black bears almost never attack people.  But it is always advisable to carry bear spray in grizzly country, be familiar with it,  and be prepared to use it. But remember that  attacks by either species, black bears or grizzly bears, are extremely rare. When they happen they make front page headlines. You are far more likely to end up hospitalized by a bee sting! WWO advises that all back country recreationalists practice “situational awareness” and carry emergency and safety supplies. Far, far more people recreating outdoors die of exposure due to unexpected weather events, falls , getting lost or drowning than animal attacks, yet many people still venture into the wilds unprepared.   Always be Bear Aware and carry survival supplies. And enjoy being out in nature, knowing you are prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way.

Myth #6: Bear that wander into inhabited areas such as campsites, rural towns or residential areas are dangerous.

Fact:    All large carnivores are potentially dangerous, and should never be approached. They are also very wary of humans and do their best to avoid them, so the first rule is to simply give them space enough to leave, clapping hands or shouting to encourage their departure. That will also help keep wild animals wild and human-averse. Bears may travel many kilometers in search of food. If you have stored your food and garbage properly and so have all  your neighbors, the bear will likely move on. Bear problems are not born, they are caused by mismanagement of human food and garbage.   Being aware of the issue and taking steps to reduce to near zero the number of negative encounters between people and bears takes commitment from all residents to keep neighborhoods free of all bear attractants, primarly accessible garbage or pet food. Western Wildlife Outreach is here to support your community, with a mission to promote an accurate understanding of how to safely and successfully live with large carnivores through education and community outreach. For more information on WWO’s work, and how to safely coexist with bears and other large carnivores, please visit our bear pages Grizzly Bear Outreach Project or Black Bear Outreach Project

Myth #7: Play dead during an attack.

Fact: The only time bear specialists recommend that you “play dead” when attacked is if you are suddenly attacked by a grizzly bear, and do not have bear spray or a chance to use it. In that case, cover the back of your neck with  your hands, curl in a ball and don’t move.   Adult-sized humans may be able to fight back against a black bear, and cause it to leave. Almost all  bear attacks that end in serious injury are by grizzly bears. Hunters are the group the most at risk of threatening encounters or attacks by a bear of either species  who has either claimed a kill, or is attempting to do so. Hunters should give way to the bear in those situations, and  please carry bear spray! Those who used firearms to defend against a charging bear were not seriously injured by the bear in 62% of cases, the same number as for those with no firearm or bear spray.  Using bear spray raises that number to over 95%.

Myth #8: Bears are carnivores that eat only other animals.

Fact: Although all bears belong to the Order “Carnivora” and we refer to them as “Carnivores” for that reason, both grizzly and black bears are actually omnivorous. They eat both plants and animals, with over 90% of their diet being insects or plant material which grizzly bears dig for underground and black bears find by tearing open stumps and logs. After a winter of hibernation, winter-killed deer or elk are an important source of protein for both species.

Bears Without Fear: A Book Review

by David Stalling WWO Guest Blogger

We fear bears, bears fear us and fear leads to conflict. Bears ultimately suffer. My biggest fear regarding bears is that we won’t give them the respect and space enough they need and deserve to survive into the future. Bears are neither the mystical beasts nor the dangerous vicious killers we sometimes make them out to be; they are bears. The more we get to know and understand them the less we fear them and the better we can all get along.

Kevin Van Tighem of Canmore, Alberta, knows bears and (considering all the time he’s spent around bears since he was a child in the early 1960s) it’s probably safe to assume a few bears know him. A naturalist, hiker, hunter, fisherman and biologist who recently retired as the superintendent of Canada’s Banff National Park, Van Tighem has combined his extensive knowledge and experience with research and fine writing to produce a wonderful, informative book called Bears Without Fear (Rocky Mountain Books, 2013).

“They haunt the edges of the forests of our imagination. Since the dawn of time, humans and bears have lived uneasily together. . . There was a time when humans had little defense against bears. Now, in most cases, bears have no defense against us.”

Van Tighem

With human populations and development continuing to expand, and critical bear habitat shrinking, how can we ensure wild bears always grace our planet?  “Bears and humans can share our increasingly crowded world safely,” Van Tighem writes.

“But for that to happen, we need to learn to respect bears for what they really are, and to see that the choices we make almost always affect bears and other wildlife.”

Through facts, stories and photos Van Tighem’s book helps us better understand bears and how to live with them. Sections include the history of bears in human cultures, myths about bears, and the natural history and habitats of black bears, grizzlies and polar bears.  A section about bear research includes studies on how to reduce human-bear conflicts, and the book concludes with lists of places to see bears and tips for keeping ourselves and bears safe while in bear country.

“While it remains true that bears are capable of attacking and killing people, it remains no less true that they almost always chose not to,”  Van Tighem writes.

“The most dangerous thing about a bear is not its claws, teeth or disposition; it’s how we react to it.”

When we destroy their habitat, cause unnatural mortality, or they perceive us as an imminent threat to their young or their food, Bears don’t have a lot of choice as to how they react. We do.

“Past human choices have brought us to a time when almost every bear species in the world is under threat,” writes Van Tighem. “The choices we make tomorrow – about resource development, roads, agriculture and tourism, as well about our own personal behavior in bear country – will determine the future of the dwindling bear populations that survive today.”

Bears Without Fear is packed with knowledge to help us better understand bears; let’s hope it helps us all make better choices.

You can find more of David’s posts on nature at http://thoughtsfromthewildside.blogspot.com

Hungry Bears are on the Move

It is spring and Northwest  black bears are once again on the move. Hungry bears are emerging from their dens looking for ready sources of food to replace the calories lost during a winter of hibernation when bears can lose up to 1/2 their body weight.

Bear cubs are born in the winter during the mother’s hibernation. She frequently rouses to feed and care for them. When she first ventures out with new cubs in tow, she is particularly anxious to find enough food for the family group. Recreationalistsand those living near bear country should keep in mind that bear mothers can be extremely protective.

Rich Beausoleil, bear and cougar specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) said field staff have already received reports of black bear activity in North Bend, Issaquah, and Chelan County.

“Black bears usually emerge from their dens in mid-to-late April, but warm weather can cause them to stir earlier”, Beausoleil said.

Lorna Smith, Executive Director of Western Wildlife Outreach, advises that anyone encountering a sow, or female bear and her cubs should keep a safe distance.

“If a close encounter occurs, stand tall, make noise, and back away slowly. Bear spray such as that produced by Counter Assault and several other brand names, contains capsaicin in a concentration formulated to be effective against any large carnivore and is an important tool to keep close at hand when in bear country. Carry it where you can reach it easily, like in a belt holster, and be prepared to use it when a bear charges or approaches too closely. However, black bear attacks on humans in Washington State are very, very rare. “

When black bears first emerge from their winter dens, they eat new spring greens supplemented with any winter-kill carrion which is easily located via the bear’s super keen sense of smell, many times more efficient than that of a human. Typically this diet is insufficient to help bears regain the body weight lost during hibernation and any food sources are potentially attractive to bears at this time.  A bear’s sense of smell may lead it to hone in on human-provided food after a winter spent hibernating.  Following are a few tips for preventing bear problems in your home and neighborhood:

  1. Garbage – Store garbage and animal feed inside buildings or in bear-resistant containers. Keep your garbage secured until the morning of your scheduled pickup. Encourage neighbors to do the same.
  2. Gardens and Compost – Plant gardens out in the open, away from cover. Avoid composting meat and turn your compost over frequently. Finely chopped fruit and vegetable matter will decompose faster and is less likely to attract bears. A quality electric fence used properly can keep bears out of gardens and compost piles, and  away from buildings and domestic animals.
  3. Livestock and beehives – Domestic animals, including chickens, may attract bears. Secure your livestock behind electric fences, as well as bee hives.  Bears will eat both the bees and honey.
  4. Bird feeders – Bears love to eat birdseed and suet. Take down bird feeders from April through October. Clean up dropped seeds and hulls.
  5. Barbecues – Regularly clean barbecue grills, especially the grease trap, after each use.
  6. Pets – Feed pets indoors or pick up excess and spilled food between meals and clean all pet dishes.  Avoid overfeeding chicken and other fowl so that no food remains on the ground.
  7. Freezers – Keep freezers locked in a secure building or otherwise out of reach of bears.

A new Washington State Law prohibits the feeding of carnivores, including bears, either intentionally or negligently. Involved parties may be subject to a $1000 fine.  Bears that become habituated to humans and the food they provide are labeled as “problem bears”.  If such bears cannot be successfully relocated far away from human food provided sources of food, they can become repeat offenders. “A fed bear is a dead bear”.

Keep your family and Washington’s bears safe: Be Bear Aware.

Notes from the Field

Filming Crew for Bears of the Last Frontier
The gigantic film crew for Bears of the Last Frontier:
Chris Morgan, Brenda Phillips, Dean Cannon, Joe Pontecorvo, and Nim Pontecorvo during episode 1, ‘City of Bears’.


By Chris Morgan, WWO Founder and Senior Advisor

I want to reach out to all my friends at Western Wildlife Outreach and let them know what I am up to these days. My film career on behalf of bears and other threatened wildlife has taken me around the world to some fascinating places working with incredibly dedicated people. Right now, I am in the Arctic filming Polar bears with my long-time friend and cameraman, Joe Pontecorvo. I am often asked how large our film crew is when we are out on remote locations.

Joe is is pretty much it on 95% of the shows – he has a knack of covering a lot of material with just one camera. And we love to keep the crew small, low impact, and nimble. This time we also have some spectacular help from Brenda Phillips who came in to film some of the scenes with her Canon 5D, and Dean Cannon joined us for a few days to shoot second camera. When working on “Bears of the Last Frontier”, Dean was out filming Anchorage bears when Joe and I had to be elsewhere. Dean is also a specialist with the ‘Phantom’ which is a super high speed camera that gets mind-blowing slow motion shots (like those slow mo’s of the salmon and the bears charging through the water in “Bears of the Last Frontier”).

Nim Pontecorvo was on location most of the time as sound person. Then of course there is lot’s of help behind the scenes and during editing! Keep your eye out for more of our films this year. I’m working on a brand new BBC bear series with some amazing film makers from the Planet Earth team this year which will be pretty epic. I will keep you all posted on my upcoming special full length film, “Bear Trek” which should be released and in theaters this coming year. You can see a trailer for it here: