Black bears? In Canyonlands? Yes, it's true.
Black bears are known to wander into the park from the Abajo Mountains, which border the Needles District. They have been sighted in Salt Creek Canyon and many neighboring canyons, as well as along the Colorado River. While they may be seen throughout the year, sightings (and sign like scat and tracks) are more common in the fall when prickly pear fruits have ripened.
So far, there have been no reported attacks by bears in Canyonlands. However, visitors entering the Salt Creek area of the Needles backcountry should follow common safety precautions for hiking and camping in bear country. These include:
- Make noise while you hike: bears hate surprises. Calling out and clapping hands loudly at regular intervals is the most effective way to make your presence known.
- Don't make assumptions. You can't predict when and where bears might be encountered along a trail.
- If you encounter a bear, give it as much space as you can. If a bear stands directly between you and your intended destination, wait for it to move on or detour around it.
- Never intentionally get close to a bear. Each bear has its own personal space requirements, which may vary depending on its mood. Behavior cannot be predicted. All bears are dangerous and should be respected equally.
- A fed bear is a dead bear. Bears that associate people with food can become aggressive and may have to be killed. Don't leave food, packs or garbage unattended. At night, food and garbage should be hung from a tree or stored in a vehicle. The designated backpacking sites in Upper Salt Creek are equipped with bear-proof cans for overnight storage.
- If a bear approaches you, do not run.
The majority of attacks occur when people surprise a bear. In these situations, the attack is usually a defensive maneuver. The following behavior tips may help defuse this type of encounter:
- Talk quietly or not at all; the time to make noise is before you encounter a bear. Try to detour around the bear if possible.
- Do not run! Back away slowly, but stop if it seems to agitate the bear.
- Try to assume a nonthreatening posture. Turn sideways, or bend at the knees to appear smaller.
- Use peripheral vision. Bears may interpret direct eye contact as threatening.
- Drop something (not food) to distract the bear. Keep your pack on for protection in case of an attack.
- If a bear attacks and you have pepper spray, use it!
- If the bear makes contact, protect your chest and abdomen by falling to the ground on your stomach, or assuming a fetal position to reduce the severity of an attack. Cover the back of your neck with your hands. Do not move until you are certain the bear has left.
In rare cases, bears may attack at night or after stalking people. It can be very serious, because it often means the bear is looking for food. If you are attacked at night or feel you have been stalked, try to escape. If you cannot escape or if the bear follows, use bear spray, or shout and try to intimidate the bear with a branch or rock. Do whatever it takes to let the bear know you are not easy prey.
Pepper spray may temporarily incapacitate or cause discomfort in bears. It is a non-toxic and non-lethal means of deterring them. There have been cases where bear spray repelled aggressive or attacking bears and accounts where it has not worked as expected. Factors influencing effectiveness include distance from the bear, wind, rain, air temperature and product shelf-life.
If you decide to carry pepper spray, make sure you understand its intended use and how to deploy it effectively. Under no circumstances should pepper spray create a false sense of security or serve as a substitute for taking appropriate safety precautions in bear country.