Brown bears and black bears flourish in Valdez due to the abundant fish and plentiful berries for bears to eat. Every year countless people come here to witness the bears up close and personal. Although uncommon, bears will attack humans and their pets when they are feeling threatened. Conversely, it is increasingly common that bears are shot and killed unnecessarily because of avoidable human behavior.
Valdez welcomes everyone to visit and experience all its natural wonders, including bears, but it is imperative to learn proper bear etiquette in order to protect your self and our precious and increasingly rare bear population. Below are some things you should know about bears and what you can do to protect yourself and the bears.
First and Foremost:
- It is illegal to feed bears or to harass bears in any way. You can be ticketed and fined for feeding bears.
- Bears are wild animals, even the ones who seem friendly. Do not gt close.
What You Should Know About Bears and Their Behavior.
- Bears have about six months to feed before hibernating for the winter. Most of their food is consumed in the late summer and fall, leaving precious little time to store up enough nutrients to last them all year. Please leave plenty of space for bears to get to their crucial feeding grounds.
- Bears can run as fast as horses. They can outrun humans any day, so stay away.
- Momma bears with cubs are especially dangerous because she will defend her cubs if she gets nervous or feels threatened.
- Bears usually try to avoid people. Look for signs of bears and stay a safe distance away.
- A friendly bear is a dangerous bear.
- Bears frequently use roads and trails to get from place to place. Don’t set up camp too close to these areas.
- When camping, always pick up trash and food remnants. Clean camps are less likely to attract bears.
- Bears hang out near thick underbrush, berry bushes, rivers, streams and waterways where they can find food. Use caution and watch for signs of bears when you are in these areas.
- Bears have a keen sense of smell. Don’t linger or camp near areas where fish carcasses or other organisms may be decomposing. Such places are perfect stomping grounds for bears. Keep all human and pet food in sealed containers. If you are camping, store food away from campsite or hang food in trees in airtight bear-proof containers when possible.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
- Stay away: Always make sure that you stay a safe distance from bears-even the ones who seem friendly. Bears are wild animals. Use a long lens when photographing so you can stay a safe distance from the bear. If you get too close, they may feel threatened and become aggressive.
- Never feed a bear. Not only is it illegal, but it can endanger your own life and the bears as well. When bears acclimate to humans and human foods, they are more likely to go to areas where people are or raid garbage looking for food. This becomes dangerous for people and the bear will often be killed.
- Don’t surprise a bear: Bears can become aggressive and are more likely to attack you if they are taken by surprise. Sing loudly, talk out loud, carry a bell or whistle when walking on trails, in the woods or anywhere where bears might be. Travel in pairs or groups of people when possible. Multiple people are louder than just one person.
- Never get between a bear and its food source. For instance, if you see a bear going towards the water to feed, don’t go near the water or the bear to get a good picture. Observe the bear from a distance or slowly leave the area. Otherwise, you risk scaring the bear away from its needed meal or alarming the bear and putting yourself in mortal danger.
- Keep dogs on leashes when you’re walking or hiking. Wondering dogs can attract the attention of bears and lure them towards people.
- If you see a bear up close, remain calm, slowly move away from the bear but don’t turn your back on it. Make noise and wave your arms letting the bear know that you are a human and not food.
- If you see a bear from a distance, give it space and leave it alone. Do not try to approach the bear, never get out of your car and go near a bear if you see one along a road.
- If a bear attacks you, try to make noise and scare away the bear. If that doesn’t work, cover your head, tuck yourself into a ball on the ground and play dead. Bears usually leave once they believe you are no longer a threat to them.
Biologists experienced in bear behavior say problems between bears and humans can be virtually eliminated when people arm themselves with knowledge and respect for bears and their habitat. For more bear awareness information go to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s website at www.adfg.alaska.gov, or come to the Valdez Visitor’s Bureau for information on recent bear sightings and bear safety.
Sources: Alaska Department of Fish and Game at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/ (2012), Alaska Department of Natural Resources http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/safety/bears.htm (2012) and the Ministry of Environment at http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/ (2012)
Black bear photo by Janice Reynolds. Brown bear and cub photo by Tim Bouchard.