Essential Things to Know Before Entering BC’s Bear Country

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Wildlife viewing can be transformational (there’s nothing quite like the rush of seeing your first grizzly bear in the wild!), but it can also teach you tolerance and respect as you interact with the wider, wilder world around you. British Columbia has some of the richest biodiversity in Canada—and the highest density of black bears and grizzly bears in North America. With so many wild residents, it’s important to navigate the landscape safely and sustainably.

Here are best practices for viewing bears in their natural habitat.

Great Bear Rainforest | Pete Ryan

1. Reach out to local experts

If you are interested in seeing bears, do so with a licensed bear viewing guide or by inquiring with Parks staff for appropriate viewing areas—they know best. (Large predators require wild spaces and productive habitat to flourish, and many visitors don’t realize that it is illegal to stop to view wildlife in certain sections of some parks.) Viewing platforms, ski lifts, or private tours all offer uniquely different opportunities to see bears in their most natural state.

 

2. Learn about the animals

Did you know a bear’s diet is about 80% plant-based? While many visitors hope to catch a glimpse of a grizzly pursuing the river during a salmon run, it’s a little known fact that bears spend enormous amounts of time, day and night, feeding on vegetation such as dandelions and berries. Becoming more knowledgeable about the animals you wish to see will enrich your viewing experience and help you respond appropriately when you encounter them.

Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary | Andrew Strain

3. Be aware of your surroundings

The next time you’re on a hiking trail or staking out a camping spot in the backcountry, watch for common signs of a nearby bear, such as fresh scat, overturned logs, claw marks, and tracks. Berry patches and watercourses with spawning salmon are prime bear habitat and you should use special caution in these areas. Bears—especially grizzly bears—will defend their food sources. If you discover carrion (i.e. a decaying animal that a bear can eat), leave the area immediately.

 

4. Do not surprise a bear

It may seem counter to your goal, but hiking quietly to stumble upon a bear is never a good idea. Make noise on trails to alert bears to your presence, especially in the backcountry. Using your voice costs nothing and is more effective than noise crackers or bells. Travel in groups of two or more whenever possible, and keep children close.

Farewell Harbour Lodge | Ted Hesser

5. Carry bear spray

When hiking in BC, it is recommended to carry bear spray. While bear attacks are extremely rare, like a seatbelt, bear spray can save your life. Always carry it in a holster where it is quickly accessible (not in your pack)—and be ready to deploy it in less than two seconds. Learn more about the effectiveness of bear spray and how to use and transport it safely. Remember, it cannot travel with you on airlines and must be purchased when you arrive in BC.

 

6. Stay calm in an encounter

It can be exhilarating to encounter a bear in the wild. However, ensure you stay cool and collected amidst the excitement—never run or yell as this can trigger a response in the bear to chase you or attack. Stop, stay coolheaded, and back away slowly. Speak calmly and don’t turn your back on the bear. Prepare your bear spray but only use it if the animal does attack.  The majority of bear encounters result in the bear leaving the area. Never approach or pursue a bear.

Pemberton | @victoraerden

7. Do not feed or attract bears

Feeding wildlife, whether intentionally or by leaving food unsecured, effectively teaches that animal to equate humans with food, which can have dire consequences. It can lead to dangerous behaviour that may force local agencies to respond by destroying the animal. It also puts you and other people at risk. Learn about “bare” camping best practices, which include keeping your campsite clean and odour-free. And remember, never store food in your tent or leave coolers (even empty ones) outside; store food in your vehicle, or if in the backcountry, use caches or hang your food away from your tent.

 

8. Use caution on roads

Wildlife collisions are one of the most common ways people are injured and wildlife are killed in British Columbia. When you spot wildlife along the side of the road, slow down. Where speeds exceed 60 km/hr, do not stop. An animal that is spooked by your presence may inadvertently cross the road and be struck by a vehicle. On roads with speeds less than 60 km/hr, move off to the shoulder so that you do not impede traffic and then stay in your vehicle. If the animal appears agitated by your presence, it is best to leave.

Vaseux Protected Area

9. Keep at a safe distance

In rare wildlife encounters, it can be very tempting to get closer, whether to see better or to capture that perfect photo. However, ethical wildlife viewing involves keeping our distance so as not to impact that animal’s natural behaviour. Ethical wildlife photography is the same. Use a long lens and stay on viewing platforms or inside your car. Remember to put the needs of the animal ahead of your own Instagram goals—and your safety.

 

10. Share your respect for wildlife

Children should always be supervised when hiking and camping in BC. However, there is no need for them to be unnecessarily fearful. Learn about the wonders of nature together and teach them what actions to take during wildlife encounters so they, too, can develop a respectful and safe relationship with the natural world around them.

 

While roads, trails, and campsites bring us closer to BC’s great wildlife, it’s important that we empower ourselves to reduce the chances of negative encounters and our impact on these incredible animals. Caring for wildlife means putting our needs after the needs of every animal so that it can feed, tend to its young, and move around safely in its natural habitat. Along with our personal safety, their wellbeing is of utmost importance if we are to conserve the natural world.

For more information on BC wildlife, safety, and “bare” camping, visit wildsafebc.com.

 

Feature image: Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. Photo: Taylor Burk

BC tour guide, Kathy Jenkins, describes the day she saw a unique white bear cub.
POSTED BY: WildSafeBC

WildSafeBC is the provincial leader in preventing conflict with wildlife through collaboration, education and community solutions. It has evolved out of the highly successful Bear Aware program and is owned and delivered by the British Columbia Conservation Foundation.