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Close encounter with mama bear
Department of Environment and Natural Resources says forest fires not bringing bears closer to civilization

Candace Thomson
Northern News Services
Published Friday, August 8, 2014

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE
You can read all the bear safety manuals you want but when you're on a trail and a bear happens upon you, all those tips and suggestions might be easily forgotten.

At least that's how Deanna Manson explained her experience when she and three friends were surprised by a mother black bear and her young cub while portaging between Duck Lake and Great Slave Lake near Dettah on their way back from a canoe trip to Mason Lake.

"It was right near the Great Slave Lake end of the portage that she took us by surprise," Manson said. "We were not expecting a bear sighting there and she started to run through the bush, and there was snorting so we were worried she was going to charge."

Manson and her companions didn't have bear spray handy - it was in the back of the canoe where Manson couldn't reach it. The bear was about 15 to 20 metres from them, Manson said, and it was then they noticed the cub perched in a tree not far off.

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Deanna Manson, left, and Ben Sabine were on a canoe trip near Dettah on Aug. 5 when they encountered a mother bear and her cub on the portage between Great Slave Lake and Duck Lake. - photo courtesy of Diana Manson

"We were concerned there was a second cub and so we started yelling, and the folks with us at the other end of the trail heard us," she said. "They saw the mother bear run off into the bush and the cub came out and stood on the trail looking at us, just taking a gander, and then he ran off after his mom."

Manson said she's only been in the North for a year, and while she's read the bear safety pamphlets available from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, it was tough to recall the tips.

"That was the hardest thing we found, our first reaction was to yell but it was a panicked yell instinctively," said Manson. "Having that calm, assertive low voice you're supposed to use was hard to maintain but luckily we didn't run, we stayed where we were."

Manson and her companions set off bear bangers, which are like flares that go off like a firecracker and are meant to distract and scare bears away if they charge.

"Once we all got back together, we reviewed notes and tried to figure out where the bears might have been that we didn't see them, or they didn't see us," said Manson. "After that, we were coming down from the adrenaline rush and got in our canoes to go back over the lake to Dettah. The water was rough so normally we would have given ourselves more time to get over the shock but we wanted to get out of there."

Bear shot in Yellowknife

On Aug. 1, a female black bear was shot on Taylor Road after being spotted roaming close to houses when it was apparently attracted by garbage, according to ENR.

With forest fires raging around the North Slave, ENR spokesperson Ella Stinson said the department doesn't see bears being drawn into the capital.

"It's a small percentage of the boreal forest (the bear's usual habitat) that's being affected, and bears and wildlife are distributed throughout the territory so it's not necessary that they come into Yellowknife, they could go in any direction to get away from the fires."

Regardless of the cause, bears are a reality in the North and people venturing out on the land have to take precautions, reads an ENR pamphlet. Staying still and calm is the first of many tips, along with avoiding direct eye contact, speaking in calm low voices if the bear is at a distance, using noisemakers and not shouting or running.

"I was the only rookie on the trip and everyone else is pretty experienced so we had the bells, the bangers and the bear spray," Manson said.

"Still, in reviewing it and talking amongst us I figure we were pretty lucky because if she had charged we would have been in a bit of trouble."

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