After a long winter, many people are eager to get out during the spring and stretch their legs, but it’s important that people consider their safety when they do it.

Kathy Schwengler, the education and outreach coordinator with Eagle Point Blue Rapids Parks Council (EPBR), says it’s important to be bear aware this time of year.

Schwengler says she is working toward getting her Bear Safety Certificate, but right now she teaches the children in the EPBR educational programs about bear safety. She says it’s a bit of a tight-rope walk when it comes to talking to the kids about bears.

“I always tell the kids that they have to be aware that they are in [the bear’s] area,” says Schwengler. 

However, she also wants people to understand that bear attacks are not common. “You’re more likely to be attacked by a dog than a bear,” says Schwengler.

According to the World Animal Foundation, there is a 1 in 2.7 million chance of being attacked by a bear. In contrast, the National Safety Council says people have a 1 in 54,516 chance of being killed by bees.

Yet Schwengler says that even if bear attacks aren’t common it’s important for people to learn about bears in their area and be prepared when spending time outdoors.

EPBR offers a program called Wilderness Primer, which offers several modules that teach kids about basic survival. One of the modules is focused on wildlife safety and talks about bears, cougars, and insects that can be dangerous, such as ticks.

“Teachers can sign kids up for the whole course or just one module,” says Schwengler.

She recommends that people should walk in groups of three or more where possible, always make noise to let the wildlife in the area know they are coming, and carry an air horn and bear spray when out in the wilderness. 

The airhorn is the first line of defence, says Schwengler. If the bear isn’t very close but seems to be interested in the hikers, she says using the air horn will scare it away. But if the bear isn’t paying attention, she says the best option is to walk away.

“If he sees you and he’s looking at you, blow your air horn,” she says. “Bear spray only works if you’re really close, like six metres, and you only have six to eight seconds of spray.”

Bear spray is also a controlled substance and only adults can purchase it.

Before going out, Schwengler says it’s important that people are familiar with how to use the bear spray. She recommends people watch a training video on YouTube under the YourAlberta channel called How To Properly Use Bear Spray.

Schwengler says it’s also important to keep any dogs properly leashed when hiking. As a dog’s natural instinct is to bark and try to intimidate the bear, it will draw the bear’s attention. If a dog happens across a bear when their owner isn’t with them, they are likely to run back to their owner’s for safety, bringing the bear with them.

At this point of the year, as bears are just waking from their long sleep, Schwengler says they aren’t likely to be as aggressive. She says when bears first start waking they aren’t thinking clearly. But that brain fog disappears after the first couple of weeks and then they become intensely focused on eating. As the berries aren’t ready that time of year, the bears will likely be scavenging for their food.

While out in the wilderness there are several signs people can watch for to know if bears are in the area. One of the more obvious signs is bear scat and she says people can look at how fresh the scat is to decide if they need to leave or not. Later in the summer, there will be berries in the scat, making it easy to identify.

She says bears will also tear apart ant hills and dig for bugs. Any areas that show these signs along with wide swaths of flattened grass have likely had bears there.

If someone comes across a carcass that has been covered with leaves, they need to leave the area immediately, says Schwengler.

She says anyone who is interested in signing their kids up for the course can book through their website at www.epbrparkscouncil.org, where they can find the full roster of programs EPBR offers, or call Schwengler at 780-542-1932

By Amanda Jeffery, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 28, 2024 at 12:42

This item reprinted with permission from   Free Press   Drayton Valley, Alberta

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