Spring's Arrival Coincides with Bear Emergence

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Date: March 21, 2006
Contact: Melissa Wilson, 406-888-7895

WEST GLACIER, MONT. – As springtime approaches, visitors aren’t the only ones getting out and exploring Glacier National Park. Now is also the time of year that bears begin to emerge from their dens after hibernating. Therefore, Superintendent Mick Holm reminds all park visitors to practice bear safety.

Visitors must make their presence known by making loud noises, such as calling out or clapping. Further, maintain a safe distance from bears, and other wildlife, and under no circumstances approach a bear.

Though no bear tracks have yet been reported, historically, male bears emerge from hibernation by mid-March. Once they emerge, they roam widely in search of food. All visitors should be aware for any evidence of bear activity while skiing, snowshoeing, and bicycling or simply walking and/or driving along park roads.

According to Holm, “In the spring months, both grizzly and black bears feed not only on vegetation, but also on winter-killed wildlife. Bears aggressively protect their food, as well as their young. Females with cubs are particularly dangerous when they venture from their dens with newborns.” If visitors encounter a bear, they should talk quietly or not at all. Back away from the bear slowly and do not run. Stop moving if the bear becomes agitated by the movement. Visitors should assume a non-threatening posture to appear smaller. Use peripheral vision, as a bear may interpret direct eye contact as a threat. People can try to distract the bear by dropping something other than food. However, visitors should keep their packs on for protection in the event of an attack. If a bear attacks, visitors should use bear pepper spray if they have it. If the bear makes contact, they should protect their chest and abdomen by falling to the ground on their stomach or by assuming the fetal position. They should cover the back of their necks with their hands. Do NOT move until the bear has definitely left the area.

Holm added, “It is critical for visitors to appreciate that Glacier National Park is bear country and that they must take appropriate precautions when here. Your best defense is to avoid a bear encounter in the first place by making your presence known. Bells are usually not loud enough; instead, you should call out or clap at frequent intervals, being especially vigilant near streams and at blind spots on the trails.”

“In the event that a bear charges, bear pepper spray MAY be effective in deterring an attack. It has been effective in most of the reported cases where it has been used,” Holm noted. However, bear spray is effective ONLY at short distances (10-30 feet). Wind, cold, rain, and product age may alter its effectiveness. “It is essential that hikers be familiar with the operation of the bear pepper spray, including the safety trigger. The spray must be IMMEDIATELY available, so do NOT keep it inside your pack.”

Holm concluded, “Bear pepper spray is NOT a repellent; do not apply bear pepper spray to people, tents, packs or other recreational equipment. It is ONLY designed to be sprayed at charging or attacking bears at close range” Bear pepper spray is clearly identified and carries an Environmental Protection Agency registration number. Personal defense sprays not designed for use on bears may be ineffective. Visitors should report any bear sightings or signs of bear activity to the nearest visitor center or ranger station or by calling 406-888-7800 as soon as possible. This timely information assists park rangers in keeping bears away from unnatural food sources, as well as prevents bears from becoming habituated. Park staff, state, and other federal agencies strive to protect bears through outreach, public education, visitor use management, hazing, aversive conditioning and/or relocation of problem bears.

Park visitors are reminded to store food and other odorous items inside hard-sided vehicles or in food lockers and to dispose garbage in a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster.

For further information on Glacier National Park, visit the park’s Web site at www.nps.gov/glac or call 406-888-7800.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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West Glacier, MT 59936


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