Being Bear Smart

As the sun shines longer and daytime stretches into night time, residents in British Columbia take to the lakes and nature trails en masse. We will pitch tents, light campfires, and encounter native flora and fauna in all its glory. As we set out on our nature adventures we will need to be mindful of our impacts and mindful of the environments we are entering. This includes being bear smart.

In British Columbia, we have 2 main bear species, the black bear, and the grizzly bear. Although they’re similar in many ways, they have unique traits which require some awareness. Black bears tend to be less aggressive and more inquisitive than their Grizzlies cousins, and as such will live closer to human settlements. Black bears are better at climbing trees and prefer forested areas, while Grizzlies roam wider areas including foothills, mountain sides, forests to river basins.

 How to identify a bear species:

  • Grizzlies have a unique shoulder hump that resembles a small camel hump.

  • Grizzlies ears are rounded and smaller in relation to their head than black bears.

  • Grizzlies tend to be a mix of colour tones from light brown to dark brown with grey and silver tones, while black bears tend to be more uniform within their colour range.

  • Grizzlies have a shorter snout, while black bears have a snout this is more dog-like in appearance.

  • Grizzlies tend to be larger, but not always

  • Black bear claws average 2.5cm in length, while Grizzlies average 9cm in length

Knowing which environment you are in is helpful in understanding potential risks. Although most bears will shy away from direct human contact, unwelcome encounters can arise when a bear is startled; when cubs may be threatened; or when past human experiences have been taught a bear to be fearful.

 Signs a bear is nearby:

  • There are bear tracks on well-worn trails

  • You witness bear scat, and if there are flies on it, know that it is fresh

  • You see claw marks on trees and stumps

  • You find an ant-hill that has been ransacked

  • Fallen logs that have been rolled away from their stump (Bears will flip and roll them in search of insects)

There are no set rules when it comes to a bear encounter, as reactions can vary by season, hunger, perceived threats to the bear, and the individual personality.

Tips in the event you come across a bear:

  • Stay calm, back away slowly, talk softly, and don’t look the bear in the eye

  • Do not run, you will never, ever, outrun it

  • Do not harass the animal

  • Move away from any cubs, at any time

  • Give the bear an escape route

  • Climbing a tree offers no guarantee of safety

Have another tip or suggestion regarding being smart in bear habitat? Be sure to leave it in the comments below.