As crisp autumn air glides through the forests, transforming summer greens to vibrant shades of yellows, oranges, rusts, and reds, bears are preparing for their winter slumber. HCC’s wondrous setting, in the heart of deep forests, waterways teeming with spawning salmon, and neighborhood fruit trees heavy with ripe fruit, is a haven for bears in search of sustenance for the colder season ahead. Here are some tips to keep safe while adventuring in the natural habitat of these magnificent creatures.

Photo Credit: @mariadelsom on Instagram

The Different Types of Bears

There are two types of bears in British Columbia; the black bear and the grizzly bear.

Black Bear

  • They are the most common in BC, with approximately 150,000 in British Columbia.
  • They have very strong hearing and can smell food from over a kilometre away.
  • Their colours range from white to black, including brown and bluish-gray.
  • They are extremely fast on any grade and are excellent tree climbers.

Grizzly Bear

  • There are approximately 15,000 grizzly bears in British Columbia.
  • They have very strong hearing and can smell food from over a kilometre away.
  • Their fur can vary in colour from black to almost blonde.
  • Grizzly bears are also extremely fast and can climb trees but are not quite as adept at tree climbing as black bears.
  • Female grizzly bears have a reputation for fiercely protecting their offspring.

Photo Credits: Left: @drjanetip on Instagram | Right: Cheryl Prince

Distinguishing a Black Bear from a Grizzly Bear

  • Black bears are smaller than grizzly bears.
  • Black bears lack the distinguished shoulder hump that grizzly bears have.
  • Black bears have taller, pointier ears whereas grizzly bears have shorter, more rounded ears.
  • See the infographic below to see how to distinguish the difference based on footprints:

Avoiding Bear Encounters

While exploring:

– Choose trails with good visibility and stay vigilant so you don’t unexpectedly encounter one: never wear headphones while hiking.
– Watch for signs of bears: Scat, tracks, freshly overturned logs, or fresh claw marks on trees.
– Make noise by singing or talking loudly (especially near streams, in dense vegetation or windy days) to make sure that you don’t surprise a bear with your presence.
– Pack out what you pack in. Leaving organics behind can put someone else at risk of a bear encounter.
– Don’t hike alone. Travel with a hiking buddy, or consider getting a group together for your outdoor adventures. Bears are much less likely to be aggressive toward multiple people.
– Avoid being out at dusk or dawn, as bears are most active at those times.
– Keep dogs leashed at all times and under your control, or leave them at home.

While camping:

– Choose your site wisely, stay away from berry patches and bodies of water.
Use airtight containers to store food, toiletries, and pet food, and keep them far from your sleeping area.
– Store food out of reach, use bear-resistant lockers when available or store in the trunk of your car.
– Make sure your cooking surfaces and campsite are kept clean, since even food residue is enough to attract bears.
– Avoid cooking pungent foods, and chose foods that are compact and don’t have strong odours like rice, tortillas, pastas, dried fruits, nuts, protein bars, and jerky.

Photo credit: @happy_hik_ing on Instagram

Bear deterrents are a crucial part of what you should bring along on any adventure in our wilds.

  • Bear spray. Carry bear spray that you can access quickly and know how to use it. The best place to attach your bear spray is to yourself. Avoid attaching it to a bike or a backpack as you may become separated from those.
  • Noisemakers. There are a wide variety of noisemakers, and they are best used for deterring bears that are at a distance as they continue to approach you. They are used to make a very loud noise that will encourage the bear to vacate the area.
  • Bear bells are not recommended because their high pitch sounds do not travel far and are not recognized as human.

How to handle a Bear Encounter

  • First, stop and stay calm while you assess the situation and be prepared for anything.
  • If the bear is unaware of your presence, leave the area quietly, have your bear spray on hand, and watch the bear.
  • If the bear is aware of your presence but not reacting, speak quietly but firmly, back away slowly. And if the bear leaves, let it and do not follow it.
  • Know the signs of agitation: jaw-popping, woofing, stomping, salivating, or swatting. It may also bluff charge.
  • If the bear is aware of your presence, exhibits agitation or charges, stand your ground and do not shout or throw things (most charges are a bluff and the bear won’t actually make contact). Use bear spray if the bear seems intent on attacking.
  • If the bear stops advancing, leave the area quietly by backing away slowly and speaking in a calm, quiet, yet firm voice.
  • If the bear is following you, you must become assertive and aggressive. Be loud, stare the bear in the eye, and make yourself appear as large as possible (standing on a nearby rock or log can give you some extra height).
  • Grizzly bears will charge and assert themselves when there is a perceived threat whereas black bears are more likely to run away from a perceived threat.
  • Aggressive bears should be reported to the Conservation Officer Service (1-877-952-7277).

If a Bear Attacks

If a bear attacks you, it is crucial to stay as calm and collected as possible.

Defensive Attacks

Normally a bear will take defensive action to quickly dismiss the danger they have perceived in you. They may not even make contact and bluff charge. In this situation, back away slowly in the manner described earlier. Or, they may knock you down, and when this happens, do the following: lie still on your stomach, protect the back of your head by clasping your hands, and spread your feet apart to avoid getting rolled over (if the bear rolls you over, roll back onto your stomach). This will most likely make the bear feel like you are no longer a threat, and they will end their attack as a result. Stay still and do not get up until you are absolutely sure that the bear has left the area.

Predatory Attacks

Predatory attacks, which are extremely rare, are much more aggressive than defensive attacks. If you find yourself in this situation, you must fight for your life with everything in reach and be sure to focus on the bear’s face, eyes, and nose. Having bear spray and knowing how to use it will give you a much greater chance of survival in this situation.

Useful Resources

Photo credit: @peaswithane on Instagram

What you need to know about bear spray

Black bears

Grizzly bears

W.A.R.P Map (For viewing recent wildlife sightings in BC)

Hope Mountain Black Bear Committee

Remember that a bear attack is extremely rare and you likely won’t be faced with these extreme situations. All the same, you should be fully prepared for anything when you venture out into our wilds so that you know exactly what to do should you be faced with a bear encounter.

Now that you are more bear aware, it’s time to plan your next adventure in Hope, Cascades & Canyons! Click the button below for information on visiting our area!

Explore HCC