Calmness is key to managing bear encounters 

Bear expert presents in Pemberton

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - conflict bear Ten-year-old grizzly bear Homer was killed in 2012 after repeatedly accessing chicken coops.
  • Photo submitted
  • conflict bear Ten-year-old grizzly bear Homer was killed in 2012 after repeatedly accessing chicken coops.

Having studied grizzly bears in the Lillooet region since 1999, Sue Senger has had her share of bear encounters — but oddly enough, she's never had to use her bear spray.

"I've never been in an encounter where I've had to," Senger recalled.

"I've taken the safety off, but I've never been at the point where I've had to use it."

The majority of bear encounters end with the bear walking away, Senger said.

With the proper training and calm demeanour, most bear encounters can be diffused.

But that doesn't mean you should leave your own bear spray behind on your next trip into the backcountry.

"Don't leave home without it," Senger said.

"And don't leave it in your car or carry it in your pack. It needs to be accessible."

At the Pemberton Community Centre on April 22, Senger offered this and many other helpful tips concerning bears and bear encounters.

Perhaps most important is the need to manage attractants that might bring bears around in the first place.

"The most fundamental thing is managing attractants," Senger said. "That's what it comes down to. And with that piece taken care of then the rest of it is applying safety measures."

The biggest attractants around one's home are fruit trees, gardens and composts, Senger said.

"If you're not using the fruit trees, cut them down and plant shade plants," she said. "If you are using the fruit trees then manage them carefully, pick up the drops, use electric fencing if you need it."

It's also important to ensure garbage and recycling are properly stored, as well as things like dog food, bird feeders and barbecue grease.

If you do find yourself in close proximity with a bear, there are some simple steps that you can follow:

• Stop, stay calm and assess the situation

• If the bear hasn't seen you, back away quietly while talking in a soft voice, so the bear can identify you as human

• If the bear is approaching you, wave your arms and talk louder to assert your dominance. Continue to back away and leave the area.

• Keep your bear spray accessible in case the situation escalates — and make sure you know how to use it.

"I think as long as you stay calm and assess the situation, my experience is that they diffuse out," Senger said.

"For all the times I've been in scenarios like that, it has not escalated, and I think that's most people's experience."

In her presentation, Senger noted that since 1986, 15 humans have been killed by bears in B.C. — six by grizzlies and nine by black bears.

Another 189 people were injured by bears over the same time period.

"It's actually pretty amazing, to be honest, given how many people and how many bears are out there," Senger said.

More often the situations are reversed, with the bears ending up destroyed by the Conservation Officer Service.

In 2014, 11 bears in the Whistler area were destroyed as a direct result of human conflict.

According to the Get Bear Smart Society, 252 bears have been killed in Whistler since 1990.

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