Bear Safety in the Wilderness

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Staying Bear Smart: Government of Canada’s Recommendations for Bear Safety in the Wilderness

Canada’s vast wilderness offers breathtaking landscapes and incredible outdoor adventures, but it’s also home to some of the world’s most magnificent yet potentially dangerous wildlife, including bears. Encounters with bears can be thrilling, but they can also be risky without proper knowledge and precautions. The Government of Canada is committed to promoting bear safety in the wilderness and provides valuable recommendations to protect both humans and bears. In this article, we’ll delve into the government’s guidelines and suggestions for bear safety, covering topics such as bear awareness, prevention, and response.

Bear Species in Canada

Canada is home to three species of bears: black bears, grizzly bears, and polar bears. Each species has distinct characteristics, behaviors, and habitats, necessitating different safety strategies.

Bear Safety Recommendations by the Government of Canada

  1. Bear Awareness and Education

    The first line of defense against bear encounters is knowledge. Understanding bear behavior, habitats, and signs of bear presence is crucial for staying safe in the wilderness. The Government of Canada recommends the following:

    a. Know the Species: Learn to distinguish between black bears, grizzly bears, and polar bears. Knowing which species is present can help you assess potential risks accurately.

    b. Bear Behavior: Educate yourself about bear behavior, especially during different seasons. Bears may act differently when they are feeding, mating, or protecting their young.

    c. Bear Signs: Be alert to bear signs such as tracks, scat, and tree markings. These can indicate recent bear activity in the area.

    d. Bear Habitat: Learn about bear habitats, including their preferred food sources and breeding areas. Bears are more likely to be encountered in these regions.

  2. Bear Prevention

    Prevention is key to avoiding bear encounters and conflicts. The Government of Canada recommends taking proactive measures to reduce the chances of bear encounters:

    a. Travel in Groups: Whenever possible, travel in groups as bears are less likely to approach larger groups of people.

    b. Make Noise: Bears may be more likely to avoid you if they hear you coming. Talking, singing, or clapping your hands can alert bears to your presence.

    c. Bear Spray: Carry bear spray and know how to use it effectively. Bear spray is a proven deterrent in case of close bear encounters.

    d. Secure Food and Garbage: Properly store food, garbage, and scented items in bear-resistant containers or hang them out of reach. Bears have an acute sense of smell and are attracted to odors.

    e. Bear-Proof Camping: If you’re camping in bear country, use bear-resistant food storage and cook away from your sleeping area. Avoid sleeping in clothes you cooked in, as food odors can linger.

    f. Hiking Safety: Stay on marked trails and avoid hiking during dawn and dusk when bears are most active. Make noise while hiking, and keep children close.

    g. Respect Bear Closures: If there are bear warnings or closures in an area, respect them. They are in place for your safety and the bear’s welfare.

    h. Avoid Dead Animals: Don’t approach dead animals, as they may attract bears scavenging for food.

  3. Bear Encounter Protocol

    Despite taking precautions, you may still encounter a bear. Knowing how to react in such situations is essential. The Government of Canada recommends the following:

    a. Stay Calm: If you encounter a bear, stay calm and avoid sudden movements. Do not run, as it may trigger a chase response.

    b. Assess the Situation: Determine the bear’s behavior. Is it aware of your presence? Is it approaching or defending a food source or cubs?

    c. Speak Calmly: In a calm voice, speak to the bear so it knows you are human. You can say something like, “Hey, bear” to make your presence known.

    d. Do Not Approach: Never approach a bear, especially if it is feeding, protecting cubs, or behaving defensively.

    e. Back Away Slowly: If the bear is unaware of you, back away slowly without turning your back. Keep an eye on the bear while gradually increasing your distance.

    f. Use Bear Spray: If the bear approaches within a close distance and displays aggressive behavior, use bear spray as a deterrent.

    g. Play Dead (Grizzly Bears Only): If you are attacked by a grizzly bear, and it is defensive (protecting cubs or a food source), play dead by lying on your stomach, protecting your neck with your hands, and spreading your legs to make it harder for the bear to turn you over. Stay still until you are sure the bear has left the area.

    h. Fight Back (Black Bears or Polar Bears): If you are attacked by a black bear or polar bear, fight back with everything you have, aiming for sensitive areas like the eyes and nose. Do not play dead in these situations.

    i. Carry Bear Deterrents: Always carry bear deterrents such as bear spray, noise-making devices, and flares in bear country. These can help deter a bear before an encounter escalates.

  4. Reporting Bear Encounters

    The Government of Canada encourages Bear Safety in the Wilderness and reporting bear encounters, especially aggressive or threatening ones. Reporting such encounters helps authorities track bear behavior and take necessary actions to ensure both human safety and bear conservation.

    a. Local Authorities: Contact local park authorities or conservation officers to report bear encounters or sightings. They can provide guidance and take appropriate actions if necessary.

    b. Wildlife Hotlines: Some regions have dedicated wildlife hotlines for reporting bear encounters. Check with local authorities for the appropriate contact information.

  5. Bear Safety in Vehicles

    In some cases, you may encounter bears while in a vehicle. The Government of Canada recommends Bear Safety in the Wilderness and the following:

    a. Stay in Your Vehicle: If you see a bear from your vehicle, stay inside. Do not approach the bear, feed it, or attempt to take photos at close range.

    b. Do Not Feed Bears: Feeding bears from your vehicle is dangerous and harmful to bears. It can lead to habituation, where bears lose their fear of humans.

    c. Bear Jams: If you encounter a “bear jam” on the road (a gathering of vehicles watching a bear), do not create a traffic hazard. Move along to allow others to view the bear safely.

    d. Do Not Throw Food: Never throw food or litter out of your vehicle window. This attracts bears and poses risks to both bears and people.


The Government of Canada’s recommendations for bear safety in the wilderness are essential guidelines for anyone venturing into bear country. By promoting bear awareness, prevention, and response, these guidelines aim to protect both human life and bear populations. With the right knowledge and precautions, individuals can enjoy Canada’s breathtaking wilderness while minimizing the risks associated with bear encounters. Remember that responsible bear behavior contributes to the safety and conservation of these majestic creatures in their natural habitats.

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