I still remember the first time I saw a bear in the wild. We were backpacking in the Uintah Mountains of Utah when we saw it meander through the trees on the other side of the lake we were camping by. While that may not be an especially captivating story, it was wonderful to experience, and I'm grateful to have that memory. But it is important to have an understanding of how to stay safe when bears are around. And bears are present on both the Colville and Idaho Panhandle National Forests. Here's some things you should know when you go camping in one of the campgrounds we manage.
Avoiding Contact & Specific Things You Can Do
Keep a clean camp.
Store only sleeping gear & clean clothing in the tent. Never sleep in the clothing worn while cooking.
If there is a device provided for storing* your food or other items, use it. If you are camped near your vehicle, store these items in the trunk.
Never use the stuff sacks for tents or sleeping bags to store food, garbage, cooking gear, or cosmetics. This may transmit smells attractive to bears to tents & sleeping bags.
Where hunting is permitted, store game meat as you would human food. Dispose of fish entrails by puncturing the air bladder & dropping them in deep water, allowing natural decomposition.
Dispose of used tampons or sanitary napkins by packing them out in a sealed plastic bag.
Never bury or burn garbage.
Never cook in or near a tent.
Use a stove instead of a cooking fire whenever possible.
Store horse & pet feed the same as human food.
If dogs are permitted in the area, keep your dog on a leash; a free ranging dog may lead a bear back to you.
*Bear proof boxes are available at Luby Bay and Reeder Bay in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests. In the Colville National Forest, they are available at Lake Leo, Lake Thomas, East Sullivan, West Sullivan, Edgewater, Mill Pond, Noisy Creek, Browns Lake, Panhandle, Pioneer Park and South Skookum.
If You Encounter a Bear
If you see a bear, stay calm & give it plenty of room. Do not startle it; detour slowly, keeping upwind so it will get your scent & know you are there. If you can't detour wait until it moves away from your route before proceeding.
When a bear first detects you, it may stand upright & use all of its senses to determine what & where you are. Once it identifies you it may ignore you, move slowly away, run, or it may charge. A wild bear rarely attacks unless it feels threatened or provoked.
On four legs, a bear may show agitation by swaying its head from side to side, making huffing noises & clacking its teeth.
A charge or retreat may follow. Flattened ears & raised hair on the back of the neck indicate aggressive intent. If a bear runs with a stiff, bouncing gait, it may be a false charge.
Never run, & do not try to climb a tree unless you are sure you have time to climb at least 10 feet before the bear reaches you. Bears can run very fast.
If attacked by a bear, do not run. Bears can easily outrun you. Try playing dead. Lie flat on your stomach or lie on your side with your legs drawn up to your chest. Clasp your hands over the back of your neck. Bears have passed by people in these positions without harming them.
Hiking in Bear Country
Stay informed about recent bear activity in the area.
Leave a travel plan with a friend & sign in & out at the trailhead so that someone will know when to expect your return.
Avoid sudden encounters & destruction of habitat. Stay on trails.
Hike in groups to avoid surprising bears.
Hike in daylight hours only.
Make human sounds by talking, singing, or clapping your hands. Avoid high-pitched voices.
Stay alert. Be aware of your surroundings. The potential for a bear encounter always exists. Look for paw prints, droppings, fresh diggings, torn-apart logs, & rocks that have been turned over. These may signal that a bear is active in the area.
It is easy to become absorbed in photography, bird watching, or sightseeing. Stay alert.
Bear food supplies such as berry fields, fish spawning areas, & animal carcasses should be recognized & avoided.
Watch for noisy streams & wind directions that may mask your sound & scent.
All bears can climb trees, some better than others.
Just because you don't see bears doesn't mean they are not around. Grizzly bears hide or make daybeds in thick brush, often near trails.