Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Be Grizzly Bear Aware

This sign is on all bear boxes in Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
    Many people have written blog posts about camping in bear country. I am going to add another. I have spent many years camping and backpacking on the east coast. This summer, my family and I experienced camping in the west for the first time, in Grand Teton National Park. This is BEAR country. Being a Master Educator and MD State Advocate for Leave No Trace, I have learned and taught others about respecting wildlife when hiking and camping. Respecting wildlife includes recreating in bear habitat.
   There isn't a difference between how to camp and hike in bear country on the east as opposed to the west. However, there is a huge difference in the attitude and proactive education that is done by the National Park and people who live in grizzly country. Campers on the east receive minimal education on how to camp among wildlife. Most state and all National parks on the east post the Leave No Trace principals on trail head signs and in campgrounds. Some may extend beyond: to remind you to put food in a car or hang it when not in use, dispose of trash properly and stay a safe distance away from bears.
   I am sure many of you have heard the horror stories of people being attacked by bears, whether they suddenly come upon a mother and cubs or the bear enters a campsite wanting food. These scenes are unfortunately true but not prevalent. One reason is because many of the western National Parks are doing a fantastic job educating hikers and campers about being safe in bear country.
    "Be Bear Aware" is Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks bear safety educational campaign.
  Be Bear Aware educational displays include: a trailer at Willow Flats, display boards in all the visitor centers and campground offices, a pamphlet distributed at the entrance stations, an article in the Grand Teton Guide, posters in all park bathrooms, billboards in populated areas and placards on all park picnic tables. The message saturates the Park.
This sign is on all picnic tables in
Grand Teton and Yellowstone.
  At all campsites, picnic locations and strategically placed spots (where people tend to picnic along lakes and in scenic locations), large steel bear boxes are located for people to place their food.
  Bear proof trash and recycling cans are located in all populated locations.
  Rangers educate visitors at all presentations and activities.
  Rangers check campsites each evening, either receiving individual education or a warning notice when violating the bear safety rules. The warnings can include a paper notice of your violation, confiscation of your gear and/or a fine. On our first night in the Park, we received a warning notice because we left our site with the water bottles still on the picnic table.
  Each backpacker receives a bear canister when obtaining a backcountry camping permit with full instructions on how to use it.
Be Bear Aware includes:
  Never allow a bear to get food. If in the presence of a bear, store your food and move away to a safe distance.
  Place all food and scented items in a bear box or hard-sided car. These include: food, cooking dishes and utensils, coolers, water bottles and dispensers, drink cans and bottles, wash bins and soap, stoves and grills, toiletries and pet food. Never leave these items in your tent or out if not present.
  Never leave your backpack or dry bag, if on the water, unattended. Bears can swim!
  Dispose of all trash, even micro-trash, and recyclables in receptacles.
  Rat-out your fellow campers who are not following the bear safety rules. I did. At Jenny Lake, fellow campers left a grocery bag of garbage hanging in a tree. Yikes!
  When hiking, talk, sing or clap often to make your presence known (this is more effective than bear bells). Bears will move away when they hear people. Don't use head phones or ear buds when hiking. Hike in groups and during the day. Bears are most active at dawn, dusk and at night.
  Carrying and using bear spray is a proven strategy if charged by a bear. Carry it on your waistline for immediate use.
  If a bear approaches or charges you: first, DO NOT RUN; second, stand still. When bears charge, they will often veer off into the woods before attacking. If so, slowly back away once the bear is in the woods. Bears charge because hikers surprise them when they are protecting a food source or their young. If attacked, lie on your stomach with your legs slightly separated and your hands held together over the back of your head. Be silent and don't move. When the bear stops attacking and leaves, lie still for a few more minutes.
   Source - "Grand Teton Guide," Summer 2012
   The campgrounds, picnic areas, high use trails and scenic areas in Grand Teton were very clean; much more than ones on the east coast. Often campsites in state and national parks in the east have micro-trash scattered around, in the campfire pits and around picnic tables. Micro-trash is often also visible on high use trails. Contrary to many national parks in the west, trash, including micro-trash, is hard to find. I attribute this to the presence of bears, grizzly and black, and the educational campaign that saturates the minds of most visitors.
   It is important that people are proactive in their recreating practices to minimize the habitation of bears in our parks. A habituated bear is a dangerous one that must be killed. Bears are essential predators in their ecosystem's food web, in addition to being natural wonders. Before this trip, I considered myself knowledgable about recreating with bears. However, camping and hiking in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone has allowed me to experience recreating in grizzly country and increased my awareness and knowledge to "Be Bear Aware."  

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