Tips for Making Bear Encounters More Bearable

A bear attack at a mine in Canada's Northwest Territories last year prompted the Workers' Compensation Board of Canada's Northwest Territories and Nunavut to issue a warning earlier this year to all workers and employers about the hazards of bears.

Grizzly and black bears frequently are found near mine and exploration sites throughout most of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Polar bears normally are found near the coasts and the High Arctic.

While employers always should consult the occupational health and safety laws and regulations of their country, state or province first when developing a bear safety strategy, Parks Canada offers the some suggestions for avoiding bear attacks and surviving bear encounters.

Bear Spray No Substitute for Common Sense

Recent research indicates that spraying a bear at close range with bear spray can be an effective deterrent but is not foolproof, according to Parks Canada. If you plan to carry bear spray, be aware that wind, spray distance, rain and product shelf life can all influence its effectiveness. Carefully read directions on the can prior to your trip.

The best way to live safely with bears, according to Parks Canada, is to keep a safe distance from them.

While there is no single strategy that will work in all situations, Parks Canada recommends the following guidelines for bear encounters:

  1. Stay Calm. Most bears do not want to attack you; they usually just want to be left alone. Bears may bluff their way out of an encounter by charging and then turning away at the last second. Bears also may react defensively by woofing, growling, snapping their jaws and laying their ears back.
  2. Immediately pick up small children and stay in a group.
  3. Talk calmly and firmly. If a bear rears on its hind legs and waves its nose about, it is trying to identify you. Remain still, stand your ground and talk calmly so it knows you are a human and not a prey animal. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack.
  4. Don't drop your pack. It can provide protection.
  5. Back away slowly. If the bear is stationary, never run. Bears can run as fast as a racehorse, both uphill and downhill.
  6. Leave the area or take a detour. If this is impossible, wait until the bear moves away. Always leave the bear an escape route.

When Bears Attack

Although attacks are rare, in the event that a bear is surprised and defends itself, Parks Canada offers the following tips:

  • Use bear spray if it is available.
  • If physical contact has occurred or is imminent, play dead. Lie on your stomach with legs apart. Protect your face, the back of your head and neck with your arms. Remain still until the bear leaves the area. These attacks seldom last more than a few minutes. While fighting back usually increases the intensity of such an attack, in some cases it has caused the bear to leave. If the attack continues for more than several minutes, consider fighting back.
  • If a bear attacks you in your tent or stalks you and then attacks, first try to escape, preferably to a building, car or up a tree. If you can't escape, or if the bear follows, use bear spray, or shout and try to intimidate the bear with a branch or rock. Do whatever it takes to let the bear know you are not easy prey. Concentrate your blows on the bears face and muzzle. This kind of attack is very rare but can be very serious because it often means the bear is looking for food and preying on you.

For more on bear safety, visit http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/nt/nahanni/visit/visit8_e.asp.

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