The Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor’s Office in Hamilton hosted an open house last Thursday to provide bear awareness information to Bitterroot Valley residents. The free event featured the Montana Bear Education Working Group’s Bear Aware trailer, bear spray demonstrations, and a bear safety training session for the public.
Bear education coordinator Danielle Oyler said, “The Bitterroot Valley is an important place to be discussing bear safety, especially since we had a grizzly bear show up near Stevensville just last October and black bears are commonly seen here.” Grizzly bears have not been sighted in the Bitterroot for decades, but black bears are not uncommon.
So, what’s the first thing you do when a you encounter a grizzly bear or a black bear in the woods?
According to Oyler, if it’s in the distance and doesn’t seem interested in you, the best thing is to avoid it and leave the area.
But what if it’s up close and appears to be aware of your presence?
First a few don’ts. Don’t run. Bears are fast and can easily outrun a human.
“Stand your ground,” is what Oyler advises. Whether it is a black bear or a grizzly. Don’t puff yourself up and try to be big and large and intimidating. That’s like inviting them to fight. Don’t retreat. Just stand calmly in a non-threatening manner and keep your eyes on the bear. Don’t try to stare it down with a menacing look, just keep your eyes on it because if it charges you want to be ready to respond. Wait until the bear gets within range and then let loose with a stream of bear spray and keep it up until the bear turns away.
What about playing dead?
Oyler cautions against it, until the bear actually touches you. It’s a last resort. Lying down when you first spot a bear can actually attract it, she said.
So, initially you stay calm and stand your ground whether it’s a black bear or a grizzly and save playing dead for when a grizzly has actually touched you.
The event included a remote-controlled charging bear demonstration used to teach participants how to read bear behavior and deploy their bear spray. There was a display of an assortment of bear-resistant containers, three life-size bear mounts, skulls, and more.
Experts were also on hand to answer questions and run demonstrations. Three 25-minute “bear aware” talks were given covering things like prevention of bear encounters, how to respond to bear encounters, how to carry and use bear spray, and the opportunity to practice using bear spray with the charging bear simulation.
There was also a free in-depth bear safety lecture inside the Forest Service office covering bear biology, behavior, attractants, camping in bear country, preventing and handling bear encounters, and more.
The Montana Bear Education Working Group is made up of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wildlife Conservation Society, Wildlife Management Institute, and People & Carnivores. The Working Group supports bear outreach and education efforts across bear country in Montana.