With nearly 350 million hectare of forest, Canada offers almost limitless access to wilderness. Whether it is for professional purposes or for recreational activities such as camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, or bird watching, there are many reasons for enjoying the natural beauty of the outdoors. However, we must always keep in mind that the forest is also home to many wild animals.
Recently, a forest worker (family member of an FPInnovations employee) was attacked by a bear during a working day in the forest. Even though he followed all of recommended ways to respond in such a situation, he was grabbed by the animal and suffered minor injuries as a result of the incident.
What should you do if you run into a bear…
Bears generally prefer avoiding people; however, these animals are extremely sensitive to and can be stressed by human activity, and can sometimes exhibit predatory behavior.
Here are some tips to enjoy the forest in the safest way possible.
Avoid the encounter
The best defense against bears is to avoid any encounter. To that end:
- Make noise to let the bear know of your presence is the best advice: listen to music through speakers (no headphones), sing, clap hands, talk loudly, etc. This is particularly important near streams, on windy days, or in low visibility areas.
- Watch for fresh bear signs (such as scat, tracks, food caches, etc.)
- Remain in larger groups when possible
- Use marked paths and trails when possible
- Carry bear spray all the time – and make sure you know how to use it!
- Take bear awareness training when and where available
- Store any food/garbage in ways that do not attract bears
If you see a bear
If the bear is UNAWARE of your presence, move away quietly.
However, if the bear is AWARE of your presence:
- Stay calm
- Speak to the bear
- Back away slowly
- Make yourself appear big (put your hands above your head, stand tall, if you have any tools put them in your hands to look even bigger)
- Do not drop your pack – it could provide protection
In case of a bear attack
- Use your bear spray
- If the bear makes contact with you and is not exhibiting predatory behavior (it is protecting cubs and/or a food cache), PLAY DEAD by lying on your stomach, legs apart and arms crossed behind the neck
- If the attack continues for more than two minutes, FIGHT BACK by shouting, kicking, punching, hitting the bear with a branch or a rock, and making yourself look big
- If the bear is exhibiting predatory behavior (has been stalking you, no cubs or food cache evident) and it attacks, fight back immediately
- If possible, as you retreat from a predatory bear, try to keep your eyes on it as it may attack again if you turn your back to it
A happy ending
Fortunately, the forest worker did as he was taught, yelling, screaming, and fighting to break free from the predatory bear and it worked out well. Thanks to good training, fitness, and reflexes (both physical and mental), he only suffered minor injuries, damage to his clothing/equipment (tears from scratches and bites), and a good scare.
Offensive bear attacks in the Canadian forests are very rare and the woods remain a very safe place to both work and enjoy recreation. Make sure to be prepared and know what to do in such situations! This will make your outdoor activities safer, and even more enjoyable.
Learn more by visiting Parks Canada’s website.