Thursday, May 19, 2011
are you bear aware?
Last night over a dozen Divas showed up at the Elim Cafe to learn how to be safe in bear country. All of Anchorage is bear country, Yvette Gillies (who works for USGS), reminded us, so avoiding certain trails - such as those along salmon streams - is just part of being safe. Traveling in groups and making noise helps. Watching our speed on twisty trails or those with blind corners can prevent us from surprising a bear. Bears don't like to be surprised.
If we do surprise a bear, we learned what to do. Rule number one is to stop and hold your ground; don't run. When with a group, get close together to look bigger in the hopes that the bear will run away. I mentioned that during one encounter years ago, I got off my bike and held it between me and the bear until the bear (actually a mom with a couple cubs) turned around. Tom Griffin (one of the presenters) confirmed that this was a good tactic. Tom manages McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, so he knows a thing or two about bears.
The best part of the presentation was when we had the opportunity to practice using bear spray (filled with inert ingredients, of course). Yvette showed us how to easily remove the safety from the can and how to aim low enough to get the spray to the bear's face. It's one thing to have bear spray with us, entirely another to feel confident using it. After a little practice, I think we all felt we could react pretty quickly if the need arose.
An interesting side note about using bear spray: Tom pointed out that taking a confident stance when using the spray on a charging bear may contribute to the bear stopping its charge. I don't know how confidently I'd be standing if I was about to pee in my bike shorts, but his observation makes sense, nonetheless.
If you weren't able to attend last night, watch the paper for announcements listing other clinics. There's definitely information we can all use about staying safe in Anchorage and points beyond.
If you can't make a clinic, you might want to view the video. The title of the video we viewed is: Staying Safe in Bear Country - A Behavioral-Based Approach to Reducing Risk. There are 2 versions - one is 48 minutes and the other is 20 minutes (we viewed the short version). According to Yvette, you can purchase them at REI, Alaska Geographic or the USGS Map Store for $ 20.00. It's also available for free at the public library.
You can get more information on bear (and moose) behavior from the state website. Be safe out there. Now let's start mountain biking!
*Photos by Jean Moran.