Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hiking in BC: Be Bear and Cougar Aware

Black Bear .........2

Photo credit: Alan Vernon

The other day, I encouraged all of you to gather your kids and get outdoors while you still can. It's late summer, the days are getting shorter, the weather will get cooler and it's a wonderful time to get out and be active. However, I forgot to share something with you all; some safety tips.

Yesterday a toddler was attacked by a cougar out by Tofino at Pacific Rim National Park. While cougar attacks are fairly rare, it's important that readers who visit or live in the Pacific Northwest are aware of bears and cougars, and how to stay safe while you are out in the wilds this time of year.

Late summer and early fall are the time when bears are very active in my area. It's not uncommon to see then wandering around as they forage for food, mostly because blackberries are ripening up, fruit trees are laden with treats, and the salmon begin running in nearby rivers. The bears are just doing what bears do, and unfortunately, that often means that there are bear/human interactions. In the case of the cougar attack, there has been a wolf/cougar advisory posted in the park since August 13th because of the strong activity.

Where I live, it's not uncommon for us to see bears cross the road just down the street from our house, or have them on the school fields looking for a tasty treat. It's also not uncommon to run into a bear when you are out hiking. In fact, my teenager used to run into bears while walking to school, and so early on we began teaching him about bear/cougar awareness when he was young so that he'd be prepared should he have an encounter. The chances of him running into one of these animals was far higher than his chances of being kidnapped by a stranger.

What do you do to keep yourself, and you kids safe? I did some research and found great tips for you, but I do encourage you to go to the links below and do some more reading before you are out and about.

  • don't approach a bear, especially cubs
  • don't corner the bear. Give it lots of room to leave the area
  • be careful around berry bushes and near streams , or in thick brush
  • keep your kids close-we liked to hike with Kevin between us, not straggling behind or running ahead
  • make noise
  • do NOT FEED the bear
If you have a bear encounter:
  • slowly back away, facing the bear
  • don't make eye contact, as the bear might take it as a challenge
  • if a bear stands on it's hind legs, it's trying to see/ smell you better to gauge if you are a threat or not.
  • talk in a firm, low pitched voice as you are backing away
Cougars, which are very prolific on Vancouver Island and can be found throughout coastal BC, are rarely seen. I've lived on the Sunshine Coast and on Vancouver Island, and have never seen a cougar. However, you still need to be aware of them and act accordingly while you are exploring their home. They are predatory animals, and if you spot one you need to use great caution and get out of the area.

  • small dogs have been known to be attacked, keep them close and leashed or leave them at home
  • keep children close to you, and don't let them wander off into the bush alone
  • carry a stick
  • make lots of noise
  • avoid areas where there have been reported cougar sightings
  • be most aware at dawn and dusk, when they are active
If you see a cougar:
  • make yourself as big as possible
  • Do NOT feed the cougar
  • Do NOT follow or approach the cougar
  • stay calm
  • don't run, back away slowly facing the cougar
  • make lots of noise and wave the stick around
  • pick up small children or pets without bending down or turning your back on the cougar
Source: BC Parks, Bear Aware, and the Ministry of the Environment BC

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