Many people enjoy hiking and camping in the wide open spaces or beneath a verdant forest canopy — these activities fill us with a sense of awe and wonder as we take the time to explore and appreciate our natural surroundings. But it’s important to be safe. The more we understand how bears and other wildlife in the area behave, the safer and more enjoyable our outdoor adventures should be.
There are three species of bears living in North America: black bears, brown bears (aka grizzly or Kodiak), and polar bears in the Arctic region. The American black bear (Ursus americanus) is the most common species and is found in 40 of the 50 US states and throughout Canada, with the exception of Prince Edward Island. This map shows US Black Bear Population by State. Contrary to its name, this species of bear varies in coloration from black, brown, and white. The North American brown bear, or grizzly (Ursus arctos) is found in the states of Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming. It is also found in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, British Columbia, and Alberta.
How to Select a Campsite and Keep it Safe
- Select a campsite before dark. Survey the area, check for animal tracks, strewn garbage and insect nests, before setting up camp. Chose a clearing, on high ground, away from tall grasses.
- When camping in bear country, store food in a cooler in your vehicle instead of in a tent. If you camp often, bear-proof coolers and garbage cans are available. Popular Mechanics put several to the test, using a 450-pound grizzly, and found them to be highly efficient when used with a lock or bolt.
- Do not keep any food in your tent. Bears are attracted to the smell of mint, peppermint, etc. so store your toothpaste in the cooler too.
- Spread a band of garden lime on the ground around your tent and picnic area, to deter snakes and bears. Sprinkle lime on the garbage can lid too.
- Pets should be brought inside the tent or camper at night for their protection and yours.
- When collecting fallen wood for campfires, avoid possible spider or snake bites by kicking the wood over to expose and examine the undersides before touching it. Wear gloves when picking up wood.
- Never leave children unattended.
- Don’t venture out of the campsite on foot or bike, after dark.
Safe Hiking/Mountain Biking Safety Tips
- Always check the weather forecast before hiking or biking long distances.
- Don’t hike after dark. Bears travel and feed at night to avoid people. Snakes, such as the copperhead are especially active at night during hot summer weather.
- Never hike alone. It’s always best to hike with a buddy or in a group, on established trails.
- When hiking with children, position them between two adults. Put a loud, survival whistle around each child’s neck and teach him or her to use it if lost or separated from the group.
- Let the wild animals know you’re coming. Carry a stick and hit the brush or trees to make noise, talk, sing, or play music, etc., when walking or mountain biking on winding trails and when returning to your campsite, to give wildlife an opportunity to retreat before you arrive. This could save your life, especially when grizzly bear sows, and cubs are nearby.
- Keep pets on a leash when hiking to avoid a conflict with wildlife.
- Deter insect bites by tucking the edge of your pant legs into socks or boots. For further protection strap a tick and flea collar around your pant ankles when hiking.
- Don’t eat wild mushrooms, berries or other plants when hiking in the wilderness. If you happen upon a patch of wild berries, keep an eye out for snakes or bear.
- Never discard food scraps or wrappers on the trail.
- Don’t carry or consume any mint flavored candy or gum when hiking, to avoid attracting bear.
- Do not feed wild animals. Birdseed also attracts bear, leave it at home.
- If you find a baby animal in the wild, do not touch it. Bear, or wildcat cubs can have sharp claws or teeth at a young age and injure you. Picking up a wild animal may provoke an attack from a protective mother or predatory animal hunting nearby. If you spot bear cubs, or other predatory animals, leave the area. If the animal is injured, call the state’s Fish and Game department if you can.
- If you come across an animal carcass, leave the area. Predatory animals may be nearby.
- Don’t touch or pick up snakes. Baby venomous snakes contain poisonous venom too.
Stay safe and enjoy the great outdoors as it has lots to offer!
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