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What Should You Do If You See A Bear?
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Friday, March 23, 2007

The best strategy for dealing with reawakening bears this spring is to avoid them in the first place, said Kevin Frey, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks bear biologist in Bozeman.

Grizzly and black bears generally wake up all over Montana in early April.

"It is fairly easy to avoid bears. Learn to recognize bear sign, make noise near creeks and in thick timber, and stop once in awhile to look around for movement," Frey said.

Bears fresh out of hibernation tend to remain around their dens for a few days, or if the snow is too deep and spring is slow in coming, they move to lower elevations to search for green grasses. Grizzly bears will also look for winter-killed carcasses.

Frey said seeing a bear is to be expected in Montana, but in most cases conflicts can be easily avoided.

When conflicts do occur it is often because the bear has been surprised, teased, fed, or meets a person over a big game carcass or huckleberry bush.

"If a bear can not be avoided, the next best thing is to prevent the bear from feeling threatened," Frey said.

"A bear may watch a person, or even stand on its hind legs to sniff the air. That is normal bear behavior, it is just trying to figure out what it is seeing," he said.

Here are the questions Frey asks when he encounters a bear.

*        Is this a grizzly or a black bear? Grizzly bears are generally more aggressive than a black bear. If you don't know, assume it is a grizzly.

*        Is the bear preoccupied? Has it noticed me? If not, immediately back up and leave quietly.

*        Is the bear looking at me? If so, remain alert but relaxed as the bear tries to identify what it is seeing. Then call out in a calm, firm tone so it can hear your voice.

*        The bear will generally turn and leave or huff and appear anxious.

*        Give the bear time to react and avoid any threatening movements or sounds.

*        If a bear begins to bounce on its front legs it is trying to scare you away or preparing to bluff charge.

*        If a bear is moving toward you straight backed, head down and picking up speed it is charging. A bear will often run past a person and then away if there is an easy avenue of escape. If the bear knocks you down, stay down until you are certain it has moved completely away.

Bear pepper spray is a last resort to use when a bear charges. While Frey urges people who recreate or work in the outdoors to carry bear pepper spray, he says it is an emergency measure and is not foolproof.

Inexperienced bear pepper spray users can benefit from mentally reviewing possible bear-conflict scenarios and from test-spraying the product until they are confident they can use it safely and effectively.