The Swan Hills region is home to some of the most breathtaking boreal landscapes imaginable, dotted with pristine lakes and teeming with abundant wildlife. It truly is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. People are naturally drawn to spend more time enjoying the outdoors as the weather warms up, and this area has ample opportunities for hiking, fishing, biking, and camping. 

While enjoying the many incredible sights and outdoor activities in this corner of the province, it is also very important to remember and respect the fact that we share this environment with a multitude of wildlife, including bears. Bears are majestic, awe-inspiring creatures that are also potentially quite dangerous. This is not to say that people should be terrified of these animals, but they must respect them.

The Grizzly Gazette reached out to Fauve Blanchard, an area wildlife biologist with Alberta Fish and Wildlife, for some tips on staying safe in bear country. 

Blanchard explains, “The best way is to understand that wildlife live here too. It’s good to get informed on how to live smart with wildlife. A big part of it is to reduce attractants to reduce your risk of conflicts.”

When camping, one of the biggest attractants is food. Garbage and even toiletries also fall into this category; even if it doesn’t seem appetizing to us, it still smells pretty tasty to a bear. Avoid bringing food, toiletries, garbage, or even the clothes worn while cooking or fishing into your tent. Store these items in bear-resistant containers, a bear-proof locker, or at least 100 m away from where you plan on sleeping.

When out and about in the bush, whether hiking or biking, make noise as you go. Make sure that it’s loud and relatively frequent, every few minutes. Be actively vocal or make noise with sticks. Blanchard recommends that people not rely on bear bells as they aren’t very loud. People tend to become complacent, assuming that the bells are making enough noise when that really isn’t the case. The purpose of making all this noise is to let the wildlife know that you are there and to keep from accidentally surprising or startling a bear, which can quickly lead to a negative encounter. And be aware of your surroundings; this is not the time to put on your headphones and tune out.

If you do encounter a bear, Blanchard recommends taking a moment to read the situation. Pay attention to what the bear is doing; is it acting defensively or predatorily? Bears may act defensively (making a bluff charge, displaying agitation or aggression, swatting the ground) to protect their cubs, food, or territory. If you determine this is a defensive bear, back up slowly and leave the area. If the bear makes contact, lower yourself to the ground on your belly, lace your fingers around your neck and anchor your toes into the ground. The idea is to show that you are not a threat. However, if the bear continues to bite after two minutes, it is time to start fighting back, as the encounter may have become predatory.

A predatory bear will generally have its ears back and engage in more of a stalking behaviour. In this case, you should act more aggressively. Make noise and throw sticks and rocks to show this bear that you are not prey.

It is recommended to carry bear spray, just in case. Just make sure that you pay attention to which direction the wind may be blowing; you wouldn’t want to accidentally have the wind blow the bear spray back toward yourself. If you have to use bear spray, aim for the eyes, nose, and mouth. 

So enjoy yourself in the great outdoors, but remain mindful of your surroundings.

By Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 23, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Grizzly Gazette   Swan Hills, Alberta

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