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Keeping safe

Bear country is out there

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 25/01) - Camping season is right around the corner, and if you're not careful there might be a bear there too.

Raymond Bourget, senior wildlife officer with Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development North Slave Region, says there are several strategies to keep in mind while out in bear country.

"The first thing is choosing your campsite carefully," Bourget says.

"Take a look around and see if there are any signs of bears in the area."

According to Bourget, such signs would include bear droppings, foot prints, torn-up logs and scratched-up trees.

During the summer months you must take particular precaution while venturing into shaded areas along creeks and rivers, says Bourget. Bears like to hang out in these areas because they are generally more cool than out in the open and it's easier for them to travel along the shore.

While travelling, Bourget recommends making lots of noise when passing through dense brush to limit the chance of a surprise encounter.

When choosing a campsite, Bourget says it is best to avoid areas where garbage is present, and to keep your food -- even candy and toothpaste -- at least 100 meters away from your tent.

"One often forgotten thing is when you're out camping your hands get dirty off the grease from a hotdog, mustard or whatever, and you wipe it off on your clothing and you go to bed with that clothing in your tent," Bourget says.

"So at night you should take care to place the clothing in a couple of plastic bags, and tie it shut, and put it somewhere away from your tent."

If you encounter Smokey on your favourite hiking or portaging trail, and it is impossible to quietly back away without it noticing you, Bourget says there are several signs to look for when confronted with the bear.

"If the bear is aware of your presence, stop, and greet him by slowly waving your hands back and forth to help the bear see where you are, and talk to him in a calm, quiet voice," Bourget says.

"What you want to do is let him know that you are a person, because the vast majority of bears are not interested in encountering people."

Bear bangers, cracker shells and mace are all good deterrents, but Bourget warns against getting too comfortable with them as over-confidence is no substitute for proper caution. The same goes for using a firearm.

RWED is currently offering two-hour workshops on bear safety free of charge, plus a video.

"The key thing to remember is never run from a bear unless you are very close to safety," Bourget says. "A bear will outrun you every time."