Preventing bear habituation critical

It is amazing what one observes while sitting at the kitchen table mindlessly looking out at the world

It is amazing what one observes while sitting at the kitchen table mindlessly looking out at the world.

The other evening I saw a huge black bear wandering around in a permanent camp sight set up right across the river from me. There are four large fifth-wheel trailers parked there facing each other in a square.

I have only seen people there once all summer. Be that as it may, the bear felt quite free to wander around. I should mention that while this camp sight is quite secluded and surrounded by forest on all but the river side, it is also but a few hundred yards away from the highway which passes by just off to the right of my kitchen window. I can see everything – not that I spend all my time watching things outside my window.

The bear did not find anything edible, or interesting apparently, and proceeded to head off – towards the highway. I  immediately did not feel good about this, and sure enough, it was only a matter of minutes before an out of province car slowed down and stooped at the side of the road. The next thing I see is someone get out of the passenger side of the car and start taking photographs of the bear not 50 feet away from the vehicle. Idiots I thought to myself. In hindsight I should have grabbed my little air-horn, gone out and given both them and the bear a blast, however, the bear soon lost interest and continued on its way.

In actual fact, it is against the law to stop and feed wild animals – not to mention stupid, especially large carnivores such as bears.

I mean inadvertently coming across a bear on the trail is one thing, but getting out of your vehicle to take photographs of a bear is another. Besides putting themselves in danger, they were also contributing to the dependance of bears on easy, roadside service of food – also known as bear conditioning and habituation.

This altering of bear behaviour, through food conditioning, combined with a loss of fear of humans through repeated contact, known as habituation, more often than not, results in potentially dangerous, if not disastrous situations – sometimes for the humans, sometimes for the bears, but most of the time it’s the bears that come out the losers.

The most effective way to prevent a bear-human contact situation is to obviously stay away from bears. A more practical way, one which also allows you to also enjoy your time spent in the great outdoors, is to become ‘bear aware’ – learning about bears, their habits and the habitat in which they live. Always keep in mind too that when you enter into certain areas, you are entering their territory, and, that bears are territorial. They will protect their food source from other bears as well as any other perceived threat to their food and/or well being. The best defence when it comes to bears is a good offence. Make plenty of noise when you think you are in bear country. Most dangerous situations arise from surprising a bear. A good referee’s whistle will let a bear know you are in the area and, in most instances, they will leave or at least avoid contact.

When camping, always put away or remove any food stuffs that might attract bears. Store food away from your tent or trailer.

If you do end up confronting a bear, whether on the trail, in camp or even in your own yard at home, remain calm, and by all means try to avoid any direct eye contact the bear. Give the bear a chance to move out on its own, then slowly move everyone to safety. Once the bear has left the area, check to ensure there are no attractants that will draw it back. Even better, if you are camping, find another spot to camp – in a totally different area.

The people who own the campsite across from me were lucky (in large part because they had left a clean camp site) that the bear did not do any damage. The people in the vehicle, well, all I can say is that they were very, very lucky the bear wasn’t interested in digital photography and on the prowl for a new camera.



Salmon Arm Observer