Publisher's View: Bear Predation (Commentary)

Do bear canisters reflect poor management policy and only serve to increase bear tolerance of humans?

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by Ryan Jordan | 2005-10-12 03:00:00-06

Publisher's View: Bear Predation (Commentary)

RIGHT: Daniel Feinberg views the massive expanse of Buffalo Meadows, north of Yellowstone National Park and home to healthy populations of grizzly bears and their food sources: huckleberry, trout, and whitebark pine. Photo: Copyright © 2005 Ryan Jordan Collection.

Backpacking in the most remote areas of the United States (Yellowstone or Alaska) is a humbling experience: you are not at the top of the food chain.

Indeed, there is some (small) probability that you will be the object of predation by a grizzly bear.

Picture this: waking up to the sounds of huffing, snorting, growling, and jaw cracking of a bear ripping through your tent intent on eating you. After consciousness slips away, the bear will drag you some distance and feed on your body (often starting in your midsection). Then, you'll be covered in dirt as the bear guards the cache - you - by taking a nap on top.

This is nonfiction wilderness in its finest hour, no?

Ironically, there may be absolutely nothing you can do to avoid the encounter. Good camping, food handling, and storage practices probably help, but provide no insurance policy against either avoiding an encounter with a predatory bear, or surviving one. Sometimes, in predatory attacks, it is doubtful that even bear spray and powerful guns can be deployed in time to guarantee survival.

Are we sensationalizing the terror of bears in the backcountry? Ask the families of Timothy Treadwell, Amy Huegenard, Glenda Ann Bradley, Kathy Huffman, and Rich Huffman. The common denominator of their existence: they have all been eaten by predatory bears in the past few years.

California wilderness parks make for good case studies of controversial bear management practices. The storage of food in so-called bear-proof containers (while the hiker is encouraged to sit back 50 yards or more and be patient) trains bears to be persistent and further habituated to the odors of human food. YOSE officials believe that keeping your distance will result in a lack of human habituation - an interesting notion considering that the scent of a human - and its food - dominates a bear canister and its hiding location. Through generations of so called "no-reward" training (somewhat of a fallacy, in light of the fact that all food storage systems have been known to fail at some level), our bear canisters may unknowingly be contributing to the habituation of bears to human presence. When bears are no longer threatened by humans - or their food storage devices - the risk of predation may increase. Are YOSE and SEKI time bombs for bear predation? California bears already recognize cars and coolers as food sources. An increasing number of reports suggest that backcountry bears know darn well what's in food canisters. Is it simply a matter of time before a shift in the fragile ecological balance of California's wilderness results in a dramatic food shortage that sends bears searching for humans...as food? If bear predation can occur in GSMNP, it can certainly occur in California.

Another option: keep a night sentry armed with a can of bear spray to guard your "unprotected food" - giving any bear wanting an easy meal a blast in the eyes that will send it coughing and wheezing for an hour. Negative conditioning works. Grizzlies in Yellowstone and Alaska have been known to stop charging at the sight of someone holding up a can of bear spray - or the the sound of the spray exiting the can - without ever getting a taste of it - a sign that it has been sprayed before. Bears that have been sprayed multiple times by hunters in the Yellowstone area have been known to keep their distance from humans and avoid them readily. Much to the chagrin of agency managers in Montana National Parks and Wilderness areas, sleeping with your food - armed - is more common than they are willing to admit.

UDAP may have a better solution: a 3.7 lb backpackable electric fence that can be used to surround your camp and/or food. Again, the focus is on negative conditioning: providing punishment to the bear for seeking a human encounter. Negative conditioning may be the only way that predatory attacks on humans can be minimized. All the best management practices for food handling and camping won't deter a bear that wants a meal bad enough.

Or, maybe in 100 years, after black and grizzly bear populations have exploded, wilderness has dwindled, and climate changes shift food profiles, we may simply be asked by YOSE/SEKI officials to camp only in life sized canister tents provided by the park service.

Think about it: AMC Huts, California style.

Ryan Jordan is the publisher and co-founder of Backpacking Light Magazine. His 2005-06 slide show, "Grizzly Style", presents an honest and frank view of backcountry camping in grizzly bear country, discussing the discrepancies between real practice vs. mandated policy by land management agencies. In addition, Ryan discusses the practical limitations - and consequences - of existing bear management policies by Montana and California land management agencies, with particular attention paid to the policies of Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, Great Smoky Mountains, Sequoia-Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks. The slide show closes with a testament to the Great Bear and why its preservation is valuable to the health of American Society. For information on booking "Grizzly Style" for an event, please Contact Ryan at BackpackingLight.com.


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"Publisher's View: Bear Predation (Commentary)," by Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/bear_predation_jordan.html, 2005-10-12 03:00:00-06.

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Electric Bear Fence
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Electric Bear Fence on 10/11/2005 23:28:38 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to: Publisher's View: Bear Predation (Commentary)

I had the opportunity recently to visit a demonstration of a portable electric bear fence. Yes, it's actually backpackable. This was a UDAP brand fence, as provided about 3.7 lbs, and enough to enclose a tent/sleeping area.

The fence concept is starting to pop up in various applications. In OR, they are using it on the Rogue River to protect food caches / storage at paddling camps. In AK, wildlife biologists use them to surround their entire camp. In MT, I've seen them used to secure stock animals while grazing at night. The latter is a terrific application: it separates the stock, safely, from camp, which is great news for backpackers and equestrians that share the same campsites. As a horse packer, it's nice having the piece of mind that your horses aren't going to be harrassed by grizzly bears when they are penned a couple hundred yards away from camp. This keeps the horse food where it belongs as well: far away from camp.

The applications of this technology could be very cool for grizzly country. There's been a lot of talk about brown/grizzly bear predation since Herrero's book came out a few years ago, and since Timothy Treadwell & mate were eaten in Katmai. A new and apparently predatory attack recently occurred on the Hulahula R in ANWR. Both of the latter could have been avoided by use of a fence.

After seeing the UDAP fence, it's first version is pretty amazing: it does exactly what it's supposed to do, and does it for a very light weight. I think you could easily chop 40% of the weight, but perhaps at twice the price (it's already at $300).

Edited by ryan on 10/12/2005 01:05:42 MDT.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Electric Bear Fence on 10/12/2005 03:16:31 MDT Print View

good post and view/commentary. it's not surprising that the bear's rxn to the spray the first time (leaving & perhaps rubbing nose/mouth on ground) and subsequent times (recognition w/o the need for actually spraying) is identical to that of dogs & the somewhat common "Halt" product. dogs too learn from a single exposure to "Halt" and leave when the hand goes to the can of "Halt" or the can is raised and pointed. having owned, trained and cared for dogs (both mine & others), i have had numerous encounters with strangers unrestrained dogs when walking mine or friends' dogs.

this is probably, as stated here, a dumb idea and i'm not suggesting it for actual use as stated. however, it may be the "germ seed" of a better idea. for decades (maybe even longer) dog trainers have used both lemon juice or vinegar in a balloon to attempt to eliminate certain behaviors from dogs - digging being one of them. balloon is filled with lemon juice or vinegar, inflated, and buried (in the case of "digging"). dog digs it up; it explodes in dog's face or mouth; sprays dog & dog sometimes learns not to dig. some dogs are smart enough to learn the smell of the balloon and so will continue to dig elsewhere where there is no "booby-trap" - those cagey canines!

my point is, can anyone think of a way to do something similar with the bear canister? it would be sort of an outer "booby-trap". there is also the question of whether this deterrent would really work on a bear. i'm sure that noxious chems could be used to chase the bear away, but would it return? hunger drive is perhaps stronger than the digging drive.

not that the hiker has to carry the booby-trapped canister, but could such be used to educate bears that inhabit the area by the powers that be in that locale/park?

of course, this still leaves the human as the only available food!!

Edited by pj on 10/12/2005 09:41:17 MDT.


(Anonymous)
Re: Electric Bear Fence on 10/12/2005 08:27:22 MDT Print View

Ryan, I don' t see how it can be said with 100% confidence that this fence will stop a predatory bear from attacking. I'll have to look up some web info on it and read.

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
bear country on 10/12/2005 09:12:04 MDT Print View

The electric bear fence is a great new tool. It has been used successfully on courses for NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School).

It's easy to use. And outfitters are using it in greater numbers, it's becoming the norm.

Remember - we are visitors in the bears fragile home. The best way we can protect the bears is by being an immaculate camper in bear-country. If a bear attacks a person, it's gunna get shot. A fed bear is a dead bear.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Predatory Black bears? on 10/12/2005 10:23:18 MDT Print View

Ryan's editorial is very thought provoking but perhaps a bit alarmist concerning the possibility of black bears in the Sierra becoming predatory. I'm not sure
that our "conditioning" of the bears feeding behavior vis a vis our misbegotten tactics in keeping our food from their hairy paws would escalate to something so contrary to Ursus Euarctos americanus natural history.
I do agree, though, that we must take a different tact in how we interact with the Ursine bores. And it certainly isn't bear canisters.

Edited by kdesign on 10/12/2005 10:24:13 MDT.

William Webber
(micwebbpl) - F
Shoot the Damn Bears on 10/12/2005 10:35:07 MDT Print View

I'm not a hunter, and am fairly pacifist, but maybe we ought to think about hunting bears once in a while. They are losing all fear of people.

David Lewis
(davidlewis) - MLife

Locale: Nova Scotia, Canada
Re: Shoot the Damn Bears on 10/12/2005 10:43:35 MDT Print View

Kevin: I assumed the editorial was talking about Grizzlies.

William: I haven't looked for the news myself, but I heard through the grapevine that there was a lethal black bear attack in Ontario recently and the talk is that the black bears (which as we all know almost never attack) are no longer afraid of humans due to a hunting ban. Again though... I stress... I did not research these reports and theories myself... it's just talk. Maybe someone else knows the true story.

---
p.s. Just did a quick google search. It's a true story. Here's the link...

Fatal bear attack renews calls for bear hunt

Edited by davidlewis on 10/12/2005 10:56:41 MDT.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Big Bad Bears on 10/12/2005 10:54:56 MDT Print View

David-- Ryan muses about black bears as well. read again.
re. Ontario bear attack--- there seem to be be behavioral differences between Eastern and Western populations of Black Bears. I have heard of attacks in Pennsylvania (in years past), as well. But were they predatory?

David Lewis
(davidlewis) - MLife

Locale: Nova Scotia, Canada
Re: Big Bad Bears on 10/12/2005 11:02:52 MDT Print View

Kevin: Ya... I only read thru the editorial once this morning... over breakfast. I'll re-read.

I guess Ontario would be considered Eastern. The article doesn't provide any details as to what led to the attack... i.e. if they accidently surprised the bear or if it was actually on the prowl. It does say that the same bear approached another hiker about 30 mins. before the fatal attack though, so it sounds like it was predatory.

I'm in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia BTW... on the eastern seaboard. We have black bears here of course... but there has never been a recorded incident of a fatal black bear attack in NS.

Edited by davidlewis on 10/12/2005 11:03:38 MDT.

Karen Allanson
(karen) - F
Odor-proof bags on 10/12/2005 11:33:21 MDT Print View

What about using odor-proof bags in canisters and other food protection devices (ie, Ursacks)? Have bears attacked food canisters using odor-proof bags? My own experience is that neither Ursacks nor canisters are disturbed when I used those bags to contain my food.

Kenneth Knight
(kenknight) - MLife

Locale: SE Michigan
Canada bear attacks on 10/12/2005 15:48:47 MDT Print View

Yes, a fatal black bear attack did take place in Ontario last month. There have also been a handful of black bear attacks that resulted in injury throughout the summer in Ontario and Alberta. Some of the attacks were fended off without injury.

There was also, if I recall correctly, a fatal bear attack in Pennsylvania in June but I'm not going to take the time to do the serach to confirm the details.

The point: black bears and grizzly bears both can pose a threat. I'm not sure it's too the point where I feel I must carry bear spray in places like GSMNP or New Jersey (the rules on bear spray in Canada are different; last I checked I could not bring it across the border).

R Alsborg
(FastWalker) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Re: Canada bear attacks on 10/12/2005 16:11:07 MDT Print View

Ken,

Do you think Bear spray would act as a deterrent on the Jersey Devil?

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
bear attacks on 10/12/2005 16:25:28 MDT Print View

From the report of the Ontario fatality, posted above:

"While there has been an increase in bear sightings, the ones that attack and kill are almost all in remote areas."

The attack on the hulahula river in ANWR was really surprising to me. This was a healthy, young, bear. The argument posed in the article was that hunting could curtail bear predation by instilling fear in bears. I'm all for bear hunting, but I'm not convinced I buy that argument.

The research I've done leads me to believe that some bears are "bad" bears (I use this term loosely, only to refer to a bear that might have predatory tendencies towards a human). Increasing human presence in remote areas may simply be increasing the probability that a human will encounter a bear that wants to eat them? Is it just statistics?

One thing I don't think a lot of people (especially tourists and frontcountry visitors, or uninformed backountry visitors) realize is the extent to which a bear will seek food.

The urge for putting on fat is tremendous, especially in the late season. Having shot an elk and defended the gut pile from a grizzly, and firing warning shots until our rounds were gone and still having the bear circle us is a freaky experience. Only bear spray kept it at bay - temporarily. In two hours, the bear was back. It really wanted the food. It's very scary, to see a bear in a predatory mode.

I was camping just outside of Yellowstone in 2003 and a griz came into camp in the middle of the night and began circling our tents. It grabbed a pack and ripped it open. We exited our shelters, sprayed the bear, and it left - for about an hour. By then we had packed up. The bear came into camp just as we finished packing, but there was still one tent up. We left the tent and began hiking away from camp. The bear ambled over to the tent and shredded it. It ate some of the fabric and chewed on the poles. This was a healthy looking bear and certainly did not appear malnourished. But, we were told that the huckleberry and whitebark pine crops were doing poorly in this area, and food was in very short supply. We did not cook in camp - we'd cooked 2 hours earlier up the trail. We weren't even camped on the trail: this was a great stealth camp, located about 1/3 mile from the main trail, completely in the middle of the woods: no game trails, no creek waterways, nothing that would indicate a "bear trail". We hung our food, toiletries, cooking gear, all back on the trail 1/3 mile away. Crazy.

Thanks for the comments, all, on the editorial. It was intended to provoke thought. I hope the forum continues to do so.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Likelihood of predatory bears graduating from cannisters to humans on 10/12/2005 17:31:10 MDT Print View

I read Ryan's commentary with interest and also William Webber's(shoot the *BEEP* things). I have backpacked in SEKI for over 30 years and watched with increasing nervousness as the bears have become increasingly aggressive. There have been several incidents in the last 2 years of humans being injured by bears in the Upper Bubbs Creek area as well as Rock Creek/Mitre Basin. At least one bear has learned to bluff charge backpackers to get them to drop their backpacks and run. They have also learned how to open Bearikade and Bear Vault cannisters by sitting on them to pop the lid. The point being: The critters have lost their fear of humans and cannisters are not an iron clad solution. My fear is similar to Ryan's; sooner or later they will figure out that the mother lode is not the cannister, but the human. This is more likely if cannisters become really bear proof. When I suggested this to SIBG personnel they were cheerfully dismissive. Nonetheless, I tend to think along the line suggested by William Webber, i.e. an occasional hunt to instill a healthy fear of humans. Their first reaction when they see a human should be, for their sake as well as ours, to "get the hell out of Dodge". As anecdotal evidence in support of this idea: when is the last time anyone had a problem with bears in a national forest, where hunting is allowed? Not me.

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Bears on 10/12/2005 18:31:21 MDT Print View

In all respect. In SEKI the owners of the Bearvault were not properly screwing on the lid. If the lid is not screwed on properly then a 500 lbs bear sitting on it could easily pop it off. As for Bubbs Creek drainage. I too have heard reports of bears being pretty agressive towards humans. In some cases, from what I have heard, injuries did occur. I have hiked from Yosemite south to SEKI and have only seen one bear in my short time as a backpacker (7 years). The one I did see just walked away from our group and went about his business. I still will take my chances sleeping in the backcountry versus driving or living in the San Jose Bay Area any day.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Black Bear as future top of food chain on 10/12/2005 18:35:03 MDT Print View

You might be right, Tom, in there being a progression to something like predatory behavior--maybe not. I had not heard of any injuries from Black Bears in SEKI due to attempts at predation. That there were strong indicators in most (if not all) incidents of provoked action ( cub/ mother situations, dumb aggressive behavior on the part of the humans, etc.).

I would love to see the documentation of these incidents in one handy place.

This all being said, culling (of both species) may be necessary in places like SEKI or particular areas like Bubbs Creek.
I've seen some pretty onery bear action, myself, there in past years---although I've never felt personally threatened (nor have I lost food to bears there--or anywhere else for that matter). I've chased huge sows in the wee hours throwing large rocks and generally, making a spectacle of myself just below Charlotte Dome, above Bubbs Creek. I've seen poor attempts at protecting one's food --bad bear bagging in the pre canister days---and incredibly reckless behavior on part of some parties camped in the area. All which have contributed to the problem.

Too many dumb people, too many smart bears.
And a shame that I don't care for bear meat. But humans, I hear, taste pretty decent ;-)

Edited by kdesign on 10/12/2005 18:36:50 MDT.

Patrick Baker
(WildMan) - F
Re: Black Bear as future top of food chain on 10/12/2005 19:11:56 MDT Print View

Ahhh, Kevin, you just jinked yourself.

Humans taste pretty good !?

Hey buddy, sleep well at night !

Maybe its just me, but I feel like
the law of survival is me or them.

Same problem with dogs today (in society) is that they have lost a fear
of humans.

Our "human" laws will need to change to preserve the right of human life over animal life in ALL cases.

Perhaps the new face of the Supreme Court will get to address this issue.

Edited by WildMan on 10/12/2005 19:16:20 MDT.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Being on top of the food chain on 10/12/2005 19:34:48 MDT Print View

well, If we really are what we eat ( as the saying goes) than perhaps we should eat really beautiful people....

as for the rest---- huh?
sounds like you are going to make the PETA most wanted list, Wildman

sweet dreams

Edited by kdesign on 10/12/2005 19:36:47 MDT.

David Lewis
(davidlewis) - MLife

Locale: Nova Scotia, Canada
Re: Being on top of the food chain on 10/12/2005 19:39:07 MDT Print View

Patrick: It's working man... I'm getting more and more afraid of humans all the time! LOL :)

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
bears on 10/12/2005 20:09:44 MDT Print View

agreed there!!! Remember all, WE ARE ALL VISITORS OUT IN THE WILDERNESS!!!

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Being on top of the food chain --the sequel on 10/12/2005 20:14:10 MDT Print View

just when you thought it was safe to go Ultralight....

"I don't think that little electric fence is going to stop me".......muwa hahaha!

Edited by kdesign on 10/12/2005 22:38:58 MDT.

John Coyle
(Bigsac)

Locale: NorCal
Electric Bear Fence on 10/12/2005 21:05:52 MDT Print View

A friend of mine once showed me slides of his backpacking trips on Kodiak Island, Alaska from 15 years ago. He had lived there for several years during high school while his dad worked at the Kodiak Island Naval Base. I noticed in the photos he had a huge handgun strapped to his waist (Desert Eagle 44 magnum auto.) I was surprised to learn that this was for protection from the Kodiak Island brown bears, which he said were even bigger than the Grizzlies in Montana and Wyoming. According to him it was common practice to carry such a weapon for bear protection while backpacking in that area. Also I noticed from his slides that the designated backpacking campground he used was completely enclosed by a strong chain link fence-even fenced on top. I can't remember if he said the fence was electrified, but it may have been. That was bear management Kodiak Island style.

R Alsborg
(FastWalker) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Re: bears on 10/12/2005 22:04:12 MDT Print View

Is it just me or does anyone else feel they’d rather take their chances dealing with the bears versus the gun toting humans.

Edited by FastWalker on 10/12/2005 22:10:17 MDT.

Joshua Scholnick
(skinnyskier) - F
Bears on 10/12/2005 23:34:34 MDT Print View

Having spent a summer in Lake Clark National Park in southwest Alaska, as well as some other time in the mountains, I've had a fair amount of (close) contact with brown and black bears. Brown bears are *BEEP* impressive animals. We carried .44 Magnum revolvers, pepper spray, and 12 ga. shotguns for bear protection. Interesting that firearms are allowed in the 1980 "ANILCA" parks and preserves, but nowhere else in the park service.

I think I could stop a charging bear with a shotgun and slugs, but what about a hungry bear who rips open your tent in the middle of the night? While the chances must be small, recent events have proven them to be greater than zero. The option of sentry duty at night is pretty onerous for a small group.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Re: bears on 10/13/2005 00:21:33 MDT Print View

Roger,

depends upon the particular humans, oh...and the particular bears. on some sections of the AT near more populated areas, CT & MA, unless i were hiking with some others (rare), i wouldn't go near the shelters. is that b/c of bears or humans? don't get too many bears round these parts! (though have seen one some yrs ago - it was road kill..oh...the pick-em up truck that hit it...judging by the trail of debris leading away from the impact site, sorta' like drops of blood, the truck was....mortally wounded too.)

BTW, in case anyone is thinking "handgun" defense for griz. back in the 60's there was this program called "American Sportsman". originally, they took TV/Movie stars & atheletes on various types of "hunts" or fishing trips - later on a kinder, gentler Am. Sportsman developed, cameras were usually used instead of guns (yes, fishing was catch & release). one episode took this NFL player, a big guy (was it Dick Butkus??? can't remember), hunting for brownies in alaska - with a handgun. can't remember if it was a Ruger Redhawk (not even sure when it was first mf'd, but as i recall it had a chrome alloy color to it and no blueing), but it was identified as a .44 magnum handgun and had a scope mounted on top of it (i don't think 'Dirty Harry' was even out yet). some yrs later, when i first handled a Redhawk - scope and all - (way too much gun for me), it reminded me of that gun in that Am. Sp. episode.

well...to cut to the chase...they approach this innocent bear foraging in the ground for whatever an innocent bear forages in the ground for that time of year ...as they slowly approach (stalk) real close (50ft or so, maybe less), out of curiosity, the bear "pops tall" to get a gander and try to pick up a scent. guide whispers "now", NFL player aims for the heart. one shot. one kill. game over, man. of course, a predatory bear isn't gonna be adopting this "go on, i dare you, shoot me in the thoracic vitals pose", is it now?!! it already knows "what" you are (i.e., din-din) and "where" you are. so no need to pop to attention. that bear was a big, big, big, big bear. seen some like it in the Yale University Peabody Museum of Natural History (~1500lb and over 7' tall - move over Shaq!). NFL player was dwarfed by the size of his kill. very formidable looking animal.

y'all out west can keep your griz and brownies. i don't want to be messin' with even a 300lb hungry black bear. hope my bear spray works. REAL QUESTION: anyone know if "Counter Assault" is a decent product, or should i get the product Dr. J uses?

oh...one more thing. as if y'all don't have enough problem with griz. read in the news recently, some real intelligent folks are attempting to get permission to set up African game preserves complete with large herbivorous mammals, plus lions and hyaenas out in the flatter parts (savannah-like) of your neck of the woods. they say it's the only way to insure survival of these dwindling species. oh...yes...i've read that bear spray does work on lions, but then, generally speaking (if it's not a young or very old lone male), don't the females of the pride generally hunt in groups of at least 3-5 (one or two chasers and an ambush group)!!! better carry 2 or 3 cans of bear, er...i mean lion spray with you at all times.

in most food chains, there is room for only one "apex" predator. go ahead and intelligently cull (not wipe out) the bear "herds" (you get my meaning, right? maybe there are too many? don't know.). how many human lives equals one bear's life?...or...is it the other way around??? wonder how PETA would ans. that ques?


Josh,

i'll take the 0400 watch.


"Fun" Factoid for the day: just in case anyone is not aware, and enjoys learning about animals. Dr. J mentioned the predatory bear going for the mid-section. here's what i've read some years ago: wild cats, wolves, etc do the same. in packs the alpha beast gets the mid-section. why? they eat first. why the midsection first? partially digested food in the small intestine & the internal organs - both good sources of nutrients - that's why they can stay alpha the longest - they eat the best. remember, not bears (being omnivores, though they still exhibit this mid-section first behavior), but carnivores don't eat much vegetable matter, so they try to get it (and its nutrients) from the prey's small intestine and internal organs (store houses for some nutrients).

Edited by pj on 10/13/2005 07:01:42 MDT.

Andy Lewicky
(romanandrey) - F
hang the can? on 10/13/2005 09:37:52 MDT Print View

Seems like bear cannisters are a big experiment. How will they impact bear behavior, over time? Will they make hikers safer or less so?

I worry about the scenario where a bear finds a can, smells food inside, and spends a frustrating 15-30 minutes trying to get in, but can't. The bear probably goes into an appetite frenzy...and then notices, hey, there's something else nearby that smells the same...coming from that tent.

Maybe, crazy as it sounds, we should be hanging bear cans to lessen the possibility of the bear playing with it.

?

Donald Horst
(donhorst) - F

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Bear Predation on 10/13/2005 10:41:10 MDT Print View

Interesting commentary, but it is a strange mixture of fact, rumor, and pure speculation. It jumps back and forth among grizzly bears, black bears, and Alaska brown bears, Eastern and Western bears -- often lumping them all together. According to Herrero, the total number of people killed by bears is divided about equally between black and grizzly bears. It surprised me too. The grizzly attacks tend to be defensive, though of course not all of them are. The black bear attacks appear to be mostly predatory attacks by occasional psycho bears. Bears seem to be a lot like people. <g>

Alaskan fatalities are still another story. The bears sound like they are more aggressive in general, but there are not very many fatal cases to generalize from. The Treadwell case is unusual, but so was Treadwell.

As I recall, few or none of the fatal attacks have been in California, at least not in my lifetime. I have been backpacking in the Cascades and Sierra for over half a century, and I see bears from time to time. In the past 10 or 12 years, I have managed three to five trips in the Sierra each summer, and I camp near fresh bear tracks or scat fairly often. I have been using canisters for almost ten years now and have never had a bear even tip one over. A friend who also hikes a lot had his chewed on once in the middle 1990's, when they were still a new device, but not since. While there may be rare cases of bears spending a lot of time trying to get into a canister and even an occasional success, my experience is that most bears have learned that they are not food, no matter what they smell like. They are NOT like cars, most of which are easy to open [for bears]. I think canisters have been a fantastic success.

Ryan asks "Are we sensationalizing . . .?" I would say "Yes, in the extreme." Most of the grizzly fatalities I have read about in the Lower 48 did not even involve eating their victims. There are no such cases on the West Coast. The East seems to make everyone a bit meaner, including black bears. <g>

Ryan discusses pepper spray and electric fences. Others mention guns, and the Park people sometimes use rubber bullets. I suspect that more of all of these could help keep the bears afraid of people. Note that the wonderful 44 Magnums probably do more for confidence than safety. Unless you are an expert with a hand gun, youprobably won't even hit a charging bear with a hand gun, and compared to a shotgun, a 44 Magnum hand gun is a pop gun. Herrero recommends a shotgun when needed for protection against grizzly or Alaskan bears, but with all the obvious caveats about hikers blasting everything in sight.

But Ryan seems to have a second agenda dear to the heart of the fanatic ultralighters -- "Don't make us carry bear canisters." The paragraph about what MIGHT happen in the Sierra as a result of using canisters is a combination of non sequiturs and the wildest speculation, and is counter to any facts I am aware of. Instead, how about setting up roving check points on the PCT and arresting every hiker without proper food protection. Then, maybe ALL the bears would leave us alone, as MOST of them do now. <g>

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Bear Predation on 10/13/2005 11:34:52 MDT Print View

Donald, good comments. A few responses.

>> but it is a strange mixture of fact, rumor, and pure speculation.

Agree 100%. Bottom line is that there is precious little data to work with. I've tried to ditch the rumor part of it, but not the speculation. That's intentional.

>> The grizzly attacks tend to be defensive

The ones I mention specifically in the editorial were predatory. I'm not real concerned about defensive attacks by grizzlies. You really can't do much to "manage" that aside from hiking in large groups and making a bunch of noise, not hiking at dusk/dawn/night etc. One purpose of the editorial was to ask the question: "can we manage predatory attacks better?"

>> Alaskan fatalities are still another story. The bears sound like they are more aggressive in general...

In the ANWR and interior, maybe. Based on what I've read, they don't seem any more or less hostile than bears in Glacier or Yellowstone. They are truly "wild" bears. All of these populations (AK interior, MT) are quite aggressive, relative to AK coastal bears, which tend to be well fed (salmon) and quite docile (at least until the salmon quit running, but by that time most tourists and hikers are gone anyway). They are very tolerant of humans, not because they are used to them, but because they aren't really a threat to their food source.

>> but there are not very many fatal cases to generalize from.

Yes, we "need" more data, unfortunately :)

>> As I recall, few or none of the fatal attacks have been in California

That's right.

>> I have been using canisters for almost ten years now and have never had a bear even tip one over.

You are going to the right places then. The areas I'm speaking about are primarily those backcountry locales where habituated bears live.

>> I think canisters have been a fantastic success.

Success, if it's measured by keeping bears from food, I agree. I'm posing the question for discussion (and not necessarily advancing the position) that canisters *may* have a habituation downside, a theory supported by long term observation at those camps in the Sierras where habituated bears are active.

>> Most of the grizzly fatalities I have read about in the Lower 48 did not even involve eating their victims.

Most fatalities are defense attacks, not predation. Predation fatalities nearly always results in the bear eating their victim.

>> But Ryan seems to have a second agenda dear to the heart of the fanatic ultralighters -- "Don't make us carry bear canisters."

No, no, not at all, actually. I'm happy to carry a canister where it's required. 2 lbs is really not that big of a deal if it means keeping your going by saving your food.

>> The paragraph about what MIGHT happen in the Sierra as a result of using canisters is a combination of non sequiturs and the wildest speculation

Yes, agreed. I do want to foster open discussion that is a little out of the box, however.

Good points, thank you.

Ryan

AK Hiker
(akhiker) - F
BEARS BEARS BEARS ALASKA on 10/13/2005 12:08:14 MDT Print View

This is a very interesting topic. Although there are general rules for "bear country" not all bear country is the same. Dr. Jordan was right on when he noted the difference between the Coastal bears and Interior bears. They behave differently. Although there is still alot of research being done, there are about 3 cases where a bear in the Interior specifically targeted people for food.

The Hula Hula attack was an interesting one. The Huffmans were well practiced in bear country and took many precautions to prevent attacks. They were not tourist that didn't have a clue. It is a very sad attack. Are Alaskan bears more aggressive in general? It depends and alot of these comments stated earlier are "speculation." The predatoary bear attack is not normal for Alaska (although it has happened and will continue to happen) and worries alot of biologist. The 9 year old bear from the Hula Hula attack was taken to the Fairbanks Fish and Game office.

Having used portable electric fences, they certainly have their place. I used them in camp while doing research for Fish and Game. One a side note, this is not "new" technology. Electric fences have been used for years in Alaska. I don't see, however using them my self while backpacking.

One note about pepper spray in Canada (response to another post), in Alaska if you are backpacking and start in Alaska and backpack into Canada you can carry pepper spray. You cannot, however drive to Canada with that pepper spray.

So do we fear enough for our lives that we need a gun? It depends I guess. I have taken guns and pepper spray. We possessed guns in field camp and pepper spray. One interesting thing is pepper spary versus guns. Research shows no significant difference between those carrying guns and those carrying pepper spray that got attacked. A gun will not do any good if you don't know how to use it, nor will pepper spray. Although pepper spray is easy to use, when faced with fear it can be difficult. (Although don't test spray your pepper spray!)
http://www.absc.usgs.gov/research/brownbears/pepperspray/pepperspray.htm

If you do have a gun and have killed a predatory bear in Alaska, you have to pack out the hide, claws, and skull and turn this into to the Fish&Game Office ... I guess that would ruin you base weight, not to mention skinning a bear is a messy process that we might not be prepared to do with our "ultralight" knives. I have used pepper spray on an attacking bear and it has not worked to get rid of the bear. (To be used effectively, pepper spray must hit the eyes and nose of the attacking bear).

Interesting enough, there haven't been attacks on groups sized 6 or more.

A good article published in the ADN (Anchorage Daily News) can be found here:
http://www.adn.com/outdoors/craig_medred/story/6717777p-6605075c.html

Let's face it: predaceous attacks are rare. As long as we are doing all that we can, we shouldn't fear. Part of the lure of bear country is the fact that everything isn't controlled, if we want protection and peace we can go to the zoo where animals are caged. When we go to the backcountry, we are no longer the big guys on the food chain and we have to respect that.

Edited by akhiker on 10/13/2005 12:11:47 MDT.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
why I'm not worried about bears... on 10/13/2005 12:24:31 MDT Print View

I think humans are generally extremely bad at sorting out risks. Especially when the risk of a spectacular, messy death is involved.

A hiker is far more likely to die from bee stings than from a bear attack. But you don't see anyone carrying bee repellent (even if such a thing exists). You don't see National Parks giving handouts and videos about "bee safe camping" (although the alliterative possibilities are quite impressive).

Other than the fact that humans are very bad at math and statistics, why is this so?

I think it is mostly because bears are kind of cool. Let's face it, they are the most interesting large animal a hiker in North America is likely to see. We have a complicated kinship relationship with them, and they are a symbol of untamed America on a par with the buffalo and bald eagle (by the way, I saw an eagle this morning just down the hill from my house -- the steelhead are running and it was feeding well -- made my morning). We humans have coexisted with bears for our entire history, and the body count has been enormously in the human's favor.

It is a great and wonderful thing to see a bear out in the wild. Kind of a privilege, too. Most of the time I suspect the bears are well clear of us before we even have a chance to see them (I'd steer well clear of humans too if I were any bear). I'd miss them if they were gone.

If the point of being in the wilderness is maximum safety (which it can't possibly be!), it is logical to start with the risks that are most likely to end in painful death. So we'd need to get rid of thunderstorms and bees before we started on the bears...

I'd agree with Ryan's assertion that present bear management policies might well be making for bigger bear problems down the road. I think that is a very safe prediction based on the track record of the agencies involved. The NPS and Forest Service are staffed with nice, well-meaning people (most of the time). But they have a profound history of well-intentioned mismanagement.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
why I'm not worried about bears... on 10/13/2005 12:29:39 MDT Print View

I think humans are generally extremely bad at sorting out risks. Especially when the risk of a spectacular, messy death is involved.

A hiker is far more likely to die from bee stings than from a bear attack. But you don't see anyone carrying bee repellent (even if such a thing exists). You don't see National Parks giving handouts and videos about "bee safe camping" (although the alliterative possibilities are quite impressive).

Other than the fact that humans are very bad at math and statistics, why is this so?

I think it is mostly because bears are kind of cool. Let's face it, they are the most interesting large animal a hiker in North America is likely to see. We have a complicated kinship relationship with them, and they are a symbol of untamed America on a par with the buffalo and bald eagle (by the way, I saw an eagle this morning just down the hill from my house -- the steelhead are running and it was feeding well -- made my morning). We humans have coexisted with bears for our entire history, and the body count has been enormously in the human's favor.

It is a great and wonderful thing to see a bear out in the wild. Kind of a privilege, too. Most of the time I suspect the bears are well clear of us before we even have a chance to see them (I'd steer well clear of humans too if I were any bear). I'd miss them if they were gone.

If the point of being in the wilderness is maximum safety (which it can't possibly be!), it is logical to start with the risks that are most likely to end in painful death. So we'd need to get rid of thunderstorms and bees before we started on the bears...

I'd agree with Ryan's assertion that present bear management policies might well be making for bigger bear problems down the road. I think that is a very safe prediction based on the track record of the agencies involved. The NPS and Forest Service are staffed with nice, well-meaning people (most of the time). But they have a profound history of well-intentioned mismanagement.

R Alsborg
(FastWalker) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Re: why I'm not worried about bears... on 10/13/2005 13:38:01 MDT Print View

My backpacking territory extends throughout the Southwest (Colorado to California). Being outdoors is my passion. I feel fortunate to have encountered many wild animals including black bears, big horn sheep, wolfs, cougars even diamond backs in their natural environments without ever an incident. I feel that has something to do with having a serious respect for all wildlife. I also feel canisters, electric fences and guns will never replace common sense.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
what, me worry about bears? on 10/13/2005 13:50:43 MDT Print View

Roger, that's absolutely right.

The Wilderness would be a more boring place without a few objective dangers. We can make up all the subjective ones we want.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh cool!

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
My misgivings about bear predation, canisters, humans as prey, the situation in SEKI on 10/13/2005 17:28:34 MDT Print View

Lots of interesting comments since I posted my original thoughts. Kevin, if you're interested in documentation about incidents in SEKI, the White Mountain RS in Bishop is a good place to start. That's where I picked up most of my info. Also one second hand report from a friend of a guy that got bear-handled in Mitre Basin(he went back with a .357 after he got out of the hospital-don't know how he fared). Ken, I agree; I, too, will take my chances. But I have never carried a canister and so far so good. My strategy is to be where they ain't, which is in the remoter parts of Sequoia NP. I have gotten away with it so far by camping high and dry where there's nothing to attract bears, including other humans. I call it "coyote camping". As for Bearikade failure, according to the folks at Wilson's Eastside Sports, even properly closed canisters have distorted enough to spring the lids. Don't know if that's valid, but they seem generally to be pretty knowledgeable. Keep the good comments coming, this is a subject near and dear to my heart and general sense of self preservation. Bottom line: They're bigger, faster, meaner and plenty smart. Interesting odds.


(Anonymous)
electric bear fence and bear cans. on 10/13/2005 20:10:54 MDT Print View

Ryan,
I suggest you contact the Park's biologist at Sequoia Kings NP if you are looking for more real world data. They would be happy to talk to you if you explained the purpose. The park has been using bear cans for at least 15 years and as far as I know (at least as of 2002 when I last worked there) has never had a failure of a can except due to human error, such as not seating or latching the lid properly. They have also tried wiring entire cars with electricity with little long term effects. Sure the bears didn't like it but they soon just learned to avoid that make and model of car. This is similar to how the bears seem to have learned that bear cans can not be opened and they don't bother with them any more. When bear cans first went into use bears would spend hours trying to get into them, but now it is rare even in highly used areas for bears to spend any time playing with a can and most often will not even touch them. The Sequoia website is www.nps.gov/seki they have some info on the site and you can find there main contact phone number there. Hope you find it usefull.

Michael Fickes
(mikefickes) - M
Solo Hiking In Grizzly Country on 10/13/2005 23:24:21 MDT Print View

Anyone have experience backpacking solo in grizzly country? Wondering if chances of attack are really greater when solo.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Solo Hiking In Grizzly Country on 10/13/2005 23:30:12 MDT Print View

Yes, the majority of my backpacking (distance wise at least) in the Yellowstone area is solo.

I've seen many more grizzlies while solo or with a single partner than as part of a group of 3 or more. Why? To speculate: while solo or with a partner, we're making less noise, generally. Less on-trail conversation. In addition, while solo or with a partner, I hike earlier and later in the day, and most (80%+) of my grizzly encounters and sightings have been in the magic hours of 5 am to 9 am.

On the flip side, both times I've had seemingly predatory bears enter a camp, I was in a group of 4-6 people. The bear I talked about above that was after the gut pile of a recently shot elk, there were three of us.

William Siemens
(alaskaman) - F
alaska bears on 10/14/2005 00:15:03 MDT Print View

I have more than once been false-charged by grizzlies...not at all pleasant. Still sometimes I "pack" when out there, sometimes not...that's when I'm alone...when I have the kids along, I take a very large bear preventer...call me a wuss if you want.. to me it is no different from taking an avalanche probe in winter, or a spare tire for that matter. Bill

William Siemens
(alaskaman) - F
alaska bears on 10/14/2005 00:17:46 MDT Print View

I have more than once been false-charged by grizzlies...not at all pleasant. Still sometimes I "pack" when out there, sometimes not...that's when I'm alone...when I have the kids along, I take a very large bear preventer...call me a wuss if you want.. to me it is no different from taking an avalanche probe in winter, or a spare tire for that matter. Bill

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Bear predation on 10/15/2005 18:51:05 MDT Print View

The discussion may or may not be far out of the box IMHO, Ryan. Recent events in the upper part of the Bubbs Creek drainage, between Vidette Meadows and Forrester Pass show an ominous trend. While no actual bear predation of humans has occurred, yet, there have been several injuries in recent years, and earlier this year Center Basin was closed to overnight camping due to extremely aggressive bear behavior resulting in at least one injury. And this is in an area where park rangers rigorously enforce regulations requiring the use of canisters. Bluff charging has occurred in this area. It seems to me that the bears, or at least a subset of the population is edging closer and closer to "the Line". I, personally, have avoided this area for years now in favor the remoter reaches of Sequoia NP, where there are very few people and even fewer bears, canister free, and so far unscathed.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Bear predation on 10/15/2005 18:51:51 MDT Print View

The discussion may or may not be far out of the box IMHO, Ryan. Recent events in the upper part of the Bubbs Creek drainage, between Vidette Meadows and Forrester Pass show an ominous trend. While no actual bear predation of humans has occurred, yet, there have been several injuries in recent years, and earlier this year Center Basin was closed to overnight camping due to extremely aggressive bear behavior resulting in at least one injury. And this is in an area where park rangers rigorously enforce regulations requiring the use of canisters. Bluff charging has occurred in this area. It seems to me that the bears, or at least a subset of the population is edging closer and closer to "the Line". I, personally, have avoided this area for years now in favor the remoter reaches of Sequoia NP, where there are very few people and even fewer bears, canister free, and so far unscathed.

Greg Vaillancourt
(GSV45) - F

Locale: Utah
Bear Predation on 10/16/2005 15:30:13 MDT Print View

Good article and comments.

I just want to add that Treadwell and his girlfriend were far from smart and did things that any bear aware person would not do.

Camping on a known bear path and singing to an advancing large male grizzly makes Treadwell my "Darwin Award" winner for all time. His girlfriend paid the price as well for his stupidity.

I don't blame the bear in this case.

Donald Horst
(donhorst) - F

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Bear Predation on 10/16/2005 16:07:47 MDT Print View

You certainly did foster discussion -- lots more interesting comments from you and others.

Re the areas I go, most are popular High Sierra areas. Many are higher than bears tend to go, but I read stories that bears have been moving higher following food sources [Our food? Us? <g>]. However, many of my campsites are in prime, habituated bear territory. For example, in 1996, I camped in the hardened campsite area just SE of the Muir Trail Ranch. Other hikers told me a bear was visiting each camp site every night [and probably doing pretty well]. There were plenty of fresh tracks. Canisters were not nearly as common then, but the bear ignored mine [the old 3 lb Garcia model]. On the same trip, I rounded a bend above McClure Meadow and came upon a big old bear sitting in the middle of the trail a few yards ahead, watching some horse packers setting camp across a small meadow. He seemed to be speculating on what he would find there for dinner. He moved
grudingly when I yelled about my superior right to the trail, but only went a few yards off and continued watching the packers. My point is that there have been plenty of habituated bears for many years, but they [most] seemed to learn very quickly that canisters were not food sources. By contrast, I was in Vidette Meadows in 1999, where they have the large, steel bear boxes. We were not bothered at Lower Viddette, but a bear apparently spent a long night trying to get into a box at Upper Viddette. Go figure.

I should add that I am definitely not a stealth camper. It seems to work fine for a small number of skilled campers, but it would be a disaster if everyone tried to do it.

The main thing that has struck me about your [and other's]canister concerns re bear behavior is that the same arguments seem to apply to ALL other forms of safe guarding food, except possibly negative reinforcement.

Hanging hiding, or otherwise protecting food seems to present all the same problems, except that the bears get a better ratio of intermittent reinforcement. This makes it more likely that they will persist in going after hikers' food. While we are speculating, which seems more likely to be POed, the bear that never gets food from people or the one that usually does, but can't get yours on a given night? Part of the Sierra bear problem is that much of our camping is at elevations where there are trees, but none large enough to hang food properly, so bears have learned to go after anything in a tree and many have learned to get even properly hung food.

Similarly, in Tom Kirchner's example of bluff-charging bears in Center Basin, bear canisters do not strike me as the obvious culprit. Tom, are you [or Ryan] suggesting that we make our food easier for the bears to get so they won't become frustrated? How about dropping our food and running if we see a bear coming toward us? <g> And while Center Basin is not really off the beaten path, it is not one of the most heavily used Sierra areas. Your post sort of suggests there is a group of bears that is becoming agressive there. True? Or is a single clever rogue?

FWIW, I just checked the Wild Ideas [Bearakade] website

http://www.wild-ideas.net/news/news.html

They claim no food has ever been lost to a bear, and have a picture of a September 2005 sign [supposedly from the Tyndall Ranger] describing an agressive bear NORTH of Forester Pass that has been opening Bear Vault canisters and swiped one person. Could this be the same story? If it is only one of several such bears, maybe it is a "trend."

My sense is the opposite of Tom's. Sixty years ago, when I first started camping in the National Parks and Forests, bears were MUCH more habituated and there were many incidents in the heavily used areas [car camps]. Back country bears routinely raided food, and they gradually got smarter as we learned better ways to protect the food. However, I have seen nothing to suggest to me that they are getting closer to "the Line" in terms of attacking people as prey, certainly not as a result of using canisters. Again, what alternative do you propose? We either give them our food, or we frustrate them a bit. And I don't think many bears are actually frustrated by canisters, at least not for long.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have my own agenda, and that is what set me off. I am anti the anti-canister movement. I have it from a usually reliable source <g> that some of the PCT through hikers and other ultralighters have been advocating ignoring the canister requirements. [I am glad to hear it you are not in that group, Ryan.] I am sure some get away with it without losing food. There is a problem [from the bears' perspective] -- so many hikers, so little time. However, it only takes an occasional reinforcement to keep the bears looking to humans for food. IMHO, the anti-canister approach is an anti-social effort by a small group who just don't care if risking their food has consequences for everyone else. It is a little bit like people who want to race their cars on the public roads.

But at least I don't think most super ultralighters advocate keeping their food in their tents [excuse me, "tarps"]. I actually encountered a Darwin Award candidate on a recent trip who asked my what my bear canister was. When I explained, she said she couldn't see the need for anything like that. She always kept her food safely in her tent. :-(

Don Horst

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Bear Predation on 10/16/2005 16:56:14 MDT Print View

Hi Don,
Sorry if I was unclear about the bluff charging. It has occurred more than once in the general area of Upper Bubbs Creek-Kearsarge Pass on to Center Basin according to ranger postings at trail heads and White Mtn RS. Dropping packs and running is probably what the bears have in mind. Then they can rummage around for trailfood, etc. They have no way of knowing when they charge that the foor is in a canister. I am not suggesting that we make our food more available to avoid PO'ing the bears. That would only compound the problem. What I fear is that as the canister program becomes increasingly effective, the bears, deprived of what has become a significant food source, may cross the line and go after a very available and even richer food source-us backpackers. Speculation, to be sure, but the stakes are high so worth considering. I, personally lean in the direction of negative reenforcement which could run the gamut from some form of electro shock or chemical unpleasantness to periodically shooting a FEW of the critters to reinstill a healthy fear of humans that has morphed into viewing them as a food source down through the years.

David Bonn
(david_bonn) - F

Locale: North Cascades
Re: Bear Predation on 10/16/2005 19:19:00 MDT Print View

What it might take is closing a goodsized area (probably not a whole park or wilderness area) for a season. Sure some bears will travel elsewhere and make trouble there. Some will start living on natural foods again. Many will starve. Evolution in action.

It seems that the Sierras are kind of a uniquely bizarre area when it comes to human-bear interaction. There have been enough bears dependent on poorly stored food for so long that there are quite a few more bears than can be supported from native food sources alone (I've heard that in some parts of Yosemite they estimate that there are FIVE times as many bears as they would expect from available food source (except for hikers and campers).

Sure, there would be some enormous complaints about prohibiting camping (and possibly even day trips) for an entire year. But it would solve the problems we are talking about here. After that reasonable food storage techniques should be sufficient to keep the bears out of people's food. So predation should or would disappear as a risk.

Stephan Guyenet
(Guyenet) - F
Re: Likelihood of predatory bears graduating from cannisters to humans on 10/16/2005 21:54:51 MDT Print View

I remain sceptical about bears having more predatory behavior toward humans than they used to. I would need some statistics to believe it. I can easily believe that there are more bear attacks now than 100 years ago, but there are also many more people in the backcountry than there were then. I'd have to see how the number of attacks per backpacker has changed. Although there are cases of bears attacking humans to eat them, my understanding is that these are still pretty rare. Most attacks occur in places where bears are used to having access to easy human food. The bears become habituated, look for the food, and sometimes injuries occur in the process. I doubt bears are seeing humans as an easy new food source all of a sudden. Any bear that kills a human gets cement shoes anyway so I don't see how the behavior or gene(s) for it would be propagated.

Stephan Guyenet
(Guyenet) - F
Re: Likelihood of predatory bears graduating from cannisters to humans on 10/16/2005 22:34:29 MDT Print View

I remain sceptical about bears having more predatory behavior toward humans than they used to. I would need some statistics to believe it. I can easily believe that there are more bear attacks now than 100 years ago, but there are also many more people in the backcountry than there were then. I'd have to see how the number of attacks per backpacker has changed. Although there are cases of bears attacking humans to eat them, my understanding is that these are still pretty rare. Most attacks occur in places where bears are used to having access to easy human food. The bears become habituated, look for the food, and sometimes injuries occur in the process. I doubt bears are seeing humans as an easy new food source all of a sudden. Any bear that kills a human gets cement shoes anyway so I don't see how the behavior or gene(s) for it would be propagated.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Bear Predation on 10/17/2005 20:08:07 MDT Print View

Hi David,
I think you have put your finger squarely on the problem: More bears than the natural environment can support due to readily available food from backpackers for the last few decades. What I am concerned about is what the bears appear to be edging toward as this artificial food source dries up as the canister/bear box program ramps up. Closing off a large area might be worth trying, but I suspect the hue and cry from commercial interests, not to mention the backpacking community would make it politically impossible.

Donald Horst
(donhorst) - F

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Bear predation on 10/19/2005 14:15:50 MDT Print View

I also remain skeptical, about predation becoming more likely and about more human food available to bears. There may well be more human food in the back country than there was in the 1950's, but overall, there was MUCH more human food available 60 years ago. People used to watch the bears chowing down at the garbage dumps. In the back country, I don't know the statistics. My sense is that trailhead quotas have kept the number of hikers fairly stable in recent years. Before quotas, it seemed like there were often more hikers than there are now. The number camping in the car campgrounds has certainly decreased since they started designating specific campsites. It used to be a free for all in Yosemite Valley -- crowd in as many campers as could find a spot to pitch a tent.

It also seems like the bear resistant garbage cans in populated areas and the improved protection of backpacking food must have cut the human food supply a lot in the last three decades. Does anyone know real numbers?

Maybe continuing with food protection and adding negative reinforcement would help. How about developing bear spray booby traps to attach to our canisters at night?

Don

And I was just kidding about the "drop your food and run" solution.


(Anonymous)
bear protection on 10/30/2005 09:10:29 MST Print View

I have done most of my hiking in Alaska where encounters with bears are very common. Over ninety per cent of the time grizzlies will run off once they become aware of your presence. I have been charged only once and it was memorable (no harm to me or the bear). My personal choice is to carry a pistol, .454 Casull, loaded with hardcast 330 grain lead slugs. A rifle is cumbersome and with a long sight radius no good at short range, a shotgun is somewhat better but too heavy. Ruger is making a short barrel version of the Super Redhawk in .454 casull called the Alaskan and which should be ideal for backpacking. As for lying on the ground curled up in fetal position to take the brunt of a bear attack, forget it. Recovery time from a bear mauling, if you survive, can take months of reconstructive surgery. Bears will go for the head and face so figure on some significant plastic surgery. To carry a gun is definitely a personal choice, one which I have made and I sleep better for it.

cat morris
(catt) - F

Locale: Alaska
video clip of bear fence tests on 10/30/2005 12:27:59 MST Print View

http://nols.edu/resources/research/movies/bearfence_xl.shtml

Edited by catt on 10/30/2005 12:29:35 MST.

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
re. video clip of bear fence tests on 10/30/2005 13:01:24 MST Print View

Cool! Now to reduce the weight of such systems. I suspect that before long it will be de rigeur for groups. Probably awhile before it becomes solo viable.

Tony Burnett
(tlbj6142) - F

Locale: OH--IO
Re: re. video clip of bear fence tests on 10/30/2005 19:43:02 MST Print View

Interesting that the video suggests using the fence to protect food *only*. Even though I've seen pictures of the fence around a tent before. Wonder how well it does against smaller critters, like marmots?

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Re: re. video clip of bear fence tests on 11/01/2005 21:47:01 MST Print View

NOT really about "fences", but about electricity:
i remember learning, many moons ago, in bio. class that many mammals have higher electrolyte concentrations in their body fluids than humans do. as such, they are more susceptible to the effects of electric shock. also, for example, to illustrate the higher electrolyte comment, even 110VAC can be deadly to some animals; rarely is to a human, unless the natural resistance of the skin is lowered through moisture/water. skin is generally 300k-500k ohms, IIRC - unless wet or sweaty, then can be 1/10 of those values just from a lot of sweat, or even less in some cases. [wish i had $20 for every time i've been shocked by 110 - i'd be able to buy all of the UL gear on my "wishlist".]

sometime electric training collars are used for some types of off-lead dog training (usually, but not exclusively, with "problem" dogs). the key issue there is getting the electrodes long enough to make contact with the dog's skin.

while it is essentially "non-ranged", i wonder if an electric deterrant would be useful, in some cases, against a bear? for example, caught in the tent, by a bear - bascially awakened in the bivy. in these close quarters, what would be better to use: bear spray or a "bear-stun gun"??? electric/shock deterrant = you wouldn't need to hit the eyes or nose with a spray; just make contact with any part of the bear's body. for other occasions, hiking on the trail, the bear spray is apparently quite effective and provides a good "ranged" defensive weapon. i would guess a BearTaze would be easier to miss with than a well dispersed spray. well, it was just a thought (i.e., a "bear stun guns" and bear tasers" or some such gizmo).

Bill Nichols
(electrobearguard) - F
Electric bear fence on 11/10/2005 00:47:36 MST Print View

Electric bear fences do work very well. They have been used in Alaska by the USGS bear biologists for 10 years now. Please check out my web site for more information on bear fences.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Electric bear fence on 11/14/2005 23:56:58 MST Print View

If you just want to protect your food, a much smaller light kit could be made. A metal mesh bag suspended from a bush with poly line and insulators would do the trick. I'll bet once a bear noses a metal mesh bag and gets "bit," it would be reluctant to try again. Making bags with an obvious odor (could be pleasant to people) might even keep "trained" bears away by making the association.

There's no reason a bear can couldn't have a charger built into it.

Years ago my father had trouble with a dog in the neighborhood getting into our garbage cans and my father is an eletrician. He wired a fence charger to the can and insulated it from the ground. About 2am there was a big commotion and a large dog hitting mach 2 going down our driveway, screaming his head off. There was no need for a repeat lesson, but it did keep the raccoons out of the garbage too.

Battery operated electric fence chargers have been available for years, with many models under $100. The kits offered for RV's and cabins make snese, but a much lighter, more compact unit is needed for hiking. There is no need for all the stakes or even much wire if you charge a metal mesh bag suspended from non conductive line and insulators-- all you need to do is too create the electrical potential between two points that the bear can get into.

It still suprises me that we can't find some chemical that bears find distasteful. I'll volunteer my brother-in-law for testing if someone finds something promising :)

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Portable fence chargers on 11/15/2005 01:07:14 MST Print View

Check this out:
http://www.hallman.ca/2705.htm

I have an inquiry in about US sales. Note they recommend it for "protecting supplies from foraging nocturnal animals on camping or hiking trips
." Runs 4 weeks continuous on 4 D Cells.

paul johnson
(pj) - F

Locale: LazyBoy in my Den - miss the forest
Re: Portable fence chargers on 11/15/2005 02:36:04 MST Print View

Dale,

two excellent posts. many thanks. 4D cells...hmm...could do dbl-duty in my Binford 9000 Headlamp (aka "the portable lighthouse" aka Pelican 2660 headlamp).

it will deter rodents and restrains stock, will it deter a bear too?

BTW, i've actually worked with one dog (a sagacious Boxer) that learned to tolerate the pain of an electric training collar as it ran away to get beyond the ~0.25mile range of hand-held control/transmitter. After getting the dog to return (play posture trick), i dialed up the voltage on the collar. 2nd time the dog still took off (horrible yelping and stumbling - twice). i couldn't bring myself to activate it a third time. it was clear that it was not going to work, so why torture the poor dog.

my point is, that steel mesh sack would have to be strong enough that the bear couldn't learn that it could destroy the sack while experiencing one relatively short duration period of negative reinforcement.

oh...BTW...for testing purposes, can your b-in-law fit in a steel mesh sack?

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Portable fence chargers on 11/18/2005 14:07:18 MST Print View

I did get a reply from Hallman and they will sell direct to US buyers. I have no connction to them and I haven't used the product.

http://www.hallman.ca/2705.htm

On the mesh sack, I was thinking of the existing bear-proof ones with the addition of the electrical charge. If it worked, then a bag with the electronics built in and a ground lead would make one compact unit.

On the brother-in-law thing, I wasn't considering a mesh sack--- something more like hog-tied with marshmallows stuck to him and the anti-Yogi chemical added. [grinning like a pumkin]


(Anonymous)
Question about battery life on 02/16/2006 22:30:19 MST Print View

How long do the batteries for the electric fence last?

My experience - I've noticed when I backpack in areas where bear hunter occurs, I rarely see bears and when I do they are always running away from me. In areas where they are protected, they seem to have little fear of me.

My closest encounter with a bear:
http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?id=70191
I think New Jersey had their first bear hunt in a long time in 2004.

David C. Menges
(davidmenges) - F
Musings on 02/27/2006 01:19:09 MST Print View

Hunting? How does it help? Do the other bears watch?*

Booby traps (Paul, the very first reply): rangers plant them, hikers carry them, bears boogie. Makes sense - time to learn.

Hunger? "Oh boy, dog food!"** Same food every day. How do they do it? Gotta have some variety... And don't mention colonoscopies!***

Electric fences: I worked on farms. Pigs (smart) back up, start squealing and run through fence (they know it's gonna hurt).

Guns: I've heard bush pilots are required to carry big ones.

What, no polar bears? Google found defense advice: trip-wire or motion detector systems, air horns, and pistol-launched "bear bangers".

Fear? Browse to http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/animals_shared_homes_planet/118632 and read that "Kermode bears lived in the forest, apart from humans for thousands of years, and have lost the instinctive fear of humans". In Genesis 9:2 God says "The fear and dread of you [men] will fall upon all the beasts of the earth...".

Let's see, is it "with cougars play dead, with bears fight back", or the other way around? I know I'm going to get it wrong... Google says never play dead with cougars, but deciding what to do about bears gets complicated (possibly exceeding the time allotted). NPS summarizes it, http://www.nps.gov/lacl/bear_behavior_field_guide.htm, and Wikipedia on "bears" is interesting (it takes 36 beers for a bear to get smashed).

And yes, several webs said electric fences can be very effective.

---

* Lower numbers? Weed out aggressive bears? Evolve into wimps?
** Gary Larsen comic, a dog thinking as he happily watches owner prepare his food
*** I had colon cancer --> frequent colonoscopies --> no food for three days

Dane Burke
(Dane) - F

Locale: Western Washington
hunting bears? on 03/03/2006 23:05:03 MST Print View

If I break into your house, can I shoot you because you might attack me?

Killing bears for human safety is ridiculous...we are the ones voluntarily putting ourselves at risk by entering the bears home.

Humans aren't always the top of the food chain. Accept it. If you can't accept the risk, go hiking somewhere else. Don't take the wild out of the wilderness, there's so little still left.

Great debate.

Vick Hines
(vickrhines) - F

Locale: Central Texas
Re: hunting bears? on 03/04/2006 17:46:24 MST Print View

Ditto, Dane

T. Sedlak
(busotti) - F
Sleeping with your food on 04/21/2006 17:42:04 MDT Print View

The black bears of Yosemite/SEKI have not been known to have ever resulted in a human fatality. I HAVE read a story about a bear biting off the ear of someone sleeping with their food in the Rae Lakes area. It was this suggestion in the article that gave me a little concern. If you are a heavy sleeper the bear might have collapsed your tent/tarp as your wake-up call. Try finding your flashlight or defense spray then. This also could seriously damage one’s tarp/tent, too.

Last summer I did some backpacking in both SEKI and Yosemite. The required bear canisters were heavy. In the SEKI Rae Lakes loop area, notorious for heavy bear activity, only the Garcia backpackers cache was allowed, as bears had been getting into other varieties (though I’m suspicious that the other varieties weren’t being closed properly). Near a trailhead I was stopped by a ranger and asked to prove that I had a bear canister. The Ursack has received conditional approval for use there this year. If they do well they will receive full approval, or else be banned again.

Instead of sleeping with one’s food perhaps an acceptable compromise would be to put a bell or something noisy on the food, leaving the option for pepper spray deterrent if the bear can’t be scared off. It has also been suggested to me that pepper spray might be more effective than firearms. I’ve read accounts of non-fatal shots to a grizzly really *BEEP* the animal off… you’d better have enough time and aim to make that next shot fatal. But a wide cone of pepper spray in the eyes of the animal would seem to leave more room for error.

Regarding Timothy Treadwell: He apparently used bear spray and electric fences with good effect for some time. Unfortunately, his overvalued ideas led to him ditching these items several years before he met his demise. The accounts I’ve read describe that the attack upon him lasted some time, suggesting that his partner might have had plenty of time to provide a blast of pepper spray and then some.

John Reed
(johnwmreed) - F

Locale: Sierras
Bear Cannisters encourage bears? on 04/22/2006 14:56:15 MDT Print View

I do not defend bear cannisters, but they are a fact of life in some areas of CA parks, re: Black Bears. However, I have never heard anyone say:

"...sit back 50 yards or more and be patient"

When a black bear enters your camp you should immediately scare it off (rocks, yelling, jumping up and down, etc.) no matter what technique you are using to protect your food. Bears need to have a healthy respect for humans and their food.

Linsey Budden
(lollygag)

Locale: pugetropolis
electric fences on 08/07/2006 03:55:15 MDT Print View

While I've never seen a pig do it, I have seen horses run thru (and break) electric fences after realizing it only shocks momentarily.

christopher reeves
(ionstram) - F
Just ordered a UDAP ultralight bear fence for SEKI trip on 09/19/2011 13:58:16 MDT Print View

So, this is probably (in fact I'm almost sure it is) overkill, but I'm doing the Rae Lakes loop soon as a solo trip and I decided to go ahead and carry the extra 3.7 lbs and set up a bear fence at night.

Hope it never gets tripped but it will help me sleep more soundly at night.

Now if anyone has ideas on how to make one lighter I'm all ears.

I'll post a review from my trip after getting back.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Just ordered a UDAP ultralight bear fence for SEKI trip on 09/19/2011 14:14:33 MDT Print View

Yes, that is certainly overkill. Those electric fences are intended for grizzly bears, the dangerous ones. At Rae Lakes, all you may find are black bears, which are not that dangerous. Actually, they might be dangerous if they score your food and then you try to take it back.

Black bears do not want to confront humans. They simply want to steal your food, by any and all means necessary.

Besides, even if you have an electric fence, you are still required to store your food in a bear canister. So, you will be carrying an electric fence plus a bear canister. Good luck with that.

--B.G.--

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Just ordered a UDAP ultralight bear fence for SEKI trip on 09/19/2011 16:30:43 MDT Print View

If you have an electric fence, you may accidentally touch it and hurt yourself.

Just be careful peeing at night.

christopher reeves
(ionstram) - F
News at 11 on 09/19/2011 21:11:08 MDT Print View

I can see the headline now: "Hiker electrocutes self while urinating in camp at night"

M B
(livingontheroad) - M
bears on 09/20/2011 21:20:20 MDT Print View

With these horrible predacious bears, its a wonder any Native Americans even survived for the whiteman to wipe out.