What to Do If You See a Bear?: Essential Tips for Dealing with Bear Encounters
It is that time of year again, when many of our bears are active and sightings on trails and in the neighborhood are common. Bears are part of our wider community, and we will always share the landscape with them. Learning more about what to do if you see a bear and bear sightings, understanding their true nature, and taking steps to secure food around homes will help us to feel more comfortable during a bear sighting and reduce bear activity close to homes.
Many people have an exaggerated fear of black bears because they are so commonly misrepresented. People’s fear or intolerance of bears is often heightened when a bear fails to bolt at the sight of us. The truth is, these intelligent animals are not afraid of us and we don’t want them to be. Whilst efforts must be made to ensure we are not encouraging bears with food, we must acknowledge that these animals are in close proximity to people daily—without incident.
A calm bear walking through a residential area during the day is often mislabelled as “habituated,” a word that puts B.C. bears on target to become an unforgiveable statistic. It is safer for everyone that a smart bear chooses to saunter as they pass through the community—they have no desire to bump into us, or our dogs.
A common misconception is that black bears in British Columbia are relocated from human-occupied areas and taken to the forest. For bears in BC this is rarely an option, and it is not the solution. Any kind of human intervention creates opportunities for bears to be injured or killed. Moving a bear away to an unfamiliar area is incredibly stressful; relocated bears can be killed by other wildlife occupying the area or struggle to find food.
Very often when bears are killed in residential areas, within days another bear takes their place. As a community, we can work together to encourage bears to spend less time closer to homes. Bears will be tempted by unsecured garbage, pet food, bird feeders, outdoor fridges and freezers, and the food delivery order that awaits you at your doorstep. Once consumed, these high-calorie foods will keep bringing bears back to homes, contributing to their untimely and avoidable deaths.
It is important that we set boundaries and encourage them to move on (from a safe place) if they visit. When you see a bear on your property, go to a window or deck and use a firm, persistent tone to encourage them to leave. Bears understand where they are not welcome, providing you are not confusing them with tempting treats.
If you notice a bear, do not approach them, always give bears lots of personal space. If you encounter a bear, be present, stay calm, talk to them in a calm voice (any language to identify yourself as human), and slowly back away. In most cases, when you start speaking to a black bear, they calmly leave the area or climb a tree to safety.
We encourage you to visit our website, northshorebears.com to learn more and share information with neighbours, friends and family living in bear country.
Luci Cadman is the Executive Director of the North Shore Black Bear Society.