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.

Friday, April 14 · 1pm – 2:30pm PDT Bear Safety & Coexistence Workshop

Join us for a bear safety and coexistence class at Paradise Valley Conservation Area, Woodinville, WA, with Defenders of Wildlife.

Farmer Frog  — 23210 Paradise Lake Road Woodinville, WA 98077

Friday, April 14 · 1pm – 2:30pm

TICKETS (limit 40 people)

Western Wildlife Outreach hosts Zoe Hanley, Defenders of Wildlife at Farmer Frog in the Paradise Valley Conservation Area Friday, April 14, 2023, 1:00-2:30.

This event will teach people how to share the landscape with black and grizzly bears. We cover bear biology, black and grizzly bear identification, what to do if you encounter a bear, and how to secure bear attractants around your home and campsite. We also explain how to use bear spray, bear spray first aid, and give participants a chance to try spraying a practice can themselves! 

The workshop includes: 

1. Presentation on

  • Bear biology and geographic range
  • Bear attractants
  • How to reduce attractants around your home and campsite
  • How to use bear spray

2. Outside bear spray demonstration. Attendees receive a FREE can of Counter Assault Bear Spray, a $60 value.

3. Back inside for bear spray first aid (if included) and more information about how to coexist with bears

4. Question & Answer

Dress for the weather in sturdy shoes for uneven land (boots recommended). Bring your own water bottle, there is water available on site. 

Any questions can be sent to jane@westernwildlife.org.

Limited to 40 participants. TICKETS (limit 40 people)

October 15: Bears & Cougars of the Olympic Peninsula

WHEN: Saturday, October 15, 2022, 2:00–3:30 p.m.

WHERE: Colony Surf Clubhouse, 50 N Colony Surf Dr, Lilliwaup, WA 98555

REGISTER BY EMAIL HERE: activities@colonysurfclub.org or via this webpage.

WWO Large Carnivore Science Advisor, Darrell Smith, will talk about bear and cougar biology, ecology, and behavior along with tips on how you can safely live and recreate around them on the Olympic Peninsula. Event is FREE with donations taken at the door to help WWO continue community outreach events like this one.

Thank you for your support. Hope to see you there!

May 3-4 – Give Big 2022, Support Our Work Today



Western Wildlife Outreach programs promote a science-based understanding for safe coexistence between human communities and the Pacific Northwest’s four large carnivores: black bear, grizzly bear, cougar and gray wolf.


Western Wildlife Outreach got its start as the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project, an independent science-based, community education project founded in 2002 by Chris Morgan in the North Cascades of Washington state. From there our work expanded to the Selkirk Ecosystem of northeastern Washington and Northwestern Idaho. These two areas were identified by scientists working to implement the Endangered Species Act as having the best chance for recovering grizzly bear populations in Washington. 

Since then, Western Wildlife Outreach has expanded our mission to include the other large carnivores – black bears, cougars and gray wolves. WWO works with our partners to provide science-based information to community groups about the ecology, biology, and behavior of these species and the low level of risk associated with living with them. By engaging communities in long-term wildlife and habitat stewardship activities, WWO programs foster an appreciation for the large carnivore’s niche in maintaining ecosystem health, providing critical context and links to other environmental recovery efforts happening throughout Washington state.

The following one-minute video was made for Give Big 2017. Five years later we are still doing the same work, continually inspired by future generations to keep doing so. This year WWO seeks to raise $25,000 to help with costs for two outreach events, a reprinting of our Wolf Identification Brochures, and trail cam project support on the Olympic Peninsula and North Cascades foothills. Donations are accepted all year. THANK YOU for your support.

May 3, 2022 Bears, Cougars and Coyotes Online Event

Bears, Cougars and Coyotes – Sharing our Outdoor Spaces

Tuesday, May 3, 2022 6:30PM – 7:30PM

Join Western Wildlife Outreach’s Large Carnivore Biologist, Darrell Smith, to learn about bear, cougar, coyote and bobcat biology, ecology and behavior. Learn tips to safely live and recreate around them in the foothills of the North Cascades. Hosted by the Sammamish Branch of the King County Library System.

Please register at the following link: King County Library Events

3.12.2022 The Wildlife of Hood Canal

Hood Canal Adventures is hosting

Western Wildlife Outreach & the Large Carnivore Education Trailer

March 12, 2022, 2:00-3:30 Brinnon Community Center

Join Western Wildlife Outreach & Hood Canal Adventures to learn more about the bears, cougars, and other wildlife that call the Olympic Peninsula home.

Come on out and learn about bear and cougar biology, ecology, and behavior along with tips on how you can safely live and recreate around them.

Event is FREE with a suggested donation of $10.00 per ticket to help WWO continue community outreach events like this one. Tickets available here.

Thank you for your support. Hope to see you there!

COVID-19: We will be observing masking protocols. Attendance is limited to 61 people (50% capacity).

2.9.2022 NW Flower & Garden Show

Washington State Convention Center

February 9-13, 2022

Western Wildlife Outreach’s large carnivore education bear and cougar mounts will be featured in a garden display design created by Community Partner Farmer Frog at the NW Flower & Garden Show, February 9-13, 2022.

WWO team members will be on hand Wednesday & Friday afternoon and most of the day Sunday. Stop by and say “Hi!” and learn about wildlife friendly farming and Farmer Frog’s “Bear With Me!” forest school program.