Safety Tips Around Bears

A large black bear looking for food near in a rotted logThe Forests of Northeast Oregon are home to black bears (Ursus americanus). These animals should always be considered unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Although many times they may detect your presence and flee the area before you notice them, encounters may occur in developed campgrounds and day use areas as well as in the backcountry.

Avoiding Bears on the Trail or in the Backcountry

  • Make your presence known. Make noise, sing, talk loudly, or wear a bell.
  • Travel with a group if possible, and keep children close at hand. Groups are noisier and easier for bears to detect.
  • Hike during daylight hours and stay on established trails. Bears may be active at any time of the day or night, but they tend to be more active at dawn and dusk.
  • Watch for signs of bear use along the trail; scat, claw marks, diggings, and logs or stumps that are torn apart.
  • Stay far away from cubs, their mother is nearby
  • Avoid taking pets, they may attract bears to you.
  • Select a campsite away from thick brush, berry patches, fish-spawning streams and animal trails.
  • Place sleeping tents at least 100 yards from food storage and cooking areas.
  • Use a flashlight at night.

If You Encounter a Bear

  • If you spot a bear and the bear is unaware of you, alter your route so that you will move away from its area.
  • Do not run. Remain calm, avoid sudden movements , continue facing the bear and slowly back away.
  • If spotted by a bear, try to get its attention while it is a good distance away. Help the bear to recognize that you are human, by talking to it in a normal voice or waving your arms. If a bear cannot tell what you are, it may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell.
  • If the bear continues to approach, try to group together and pick up small children. Try to scare the bear away by shouting and acting aggressively.
  • Give the bear plenty of room, allowing it to continue its activities undisturbed. Every bear has a zone of danger or personal space -- that is, the distance within which a bear feels threatened. If it changes its natural behavior (feeding, foraging or movement) because of your presence, you are too close. If you stray within that comfort zone, a bear may react aggressively in the form of a bluff charge, bodily contact, or even an outright attack.
  • Never run from a bear. Running may elicit a chase from an otherwise non-aggressive bear, and since they can run faster than 30 mph, you have no chance of outrunning them.
  • If a black bear attacks , it is suggested to fight back using everything in your power fists, sticks, and rocks.
  • Climbing a tree to avoid bears is popular advice but not very practical in many circumstances. All black bears can climb trees. Running to a tree may provoke an otherwise uncertain bear to chase you.
  • Throw something onto the ground (like a camera or jacket) if the bear pursues you, as it may be distracted by this and allow you to escape.
  • If you carry E.P.A. registered pepper spray, be sure that you have trained with it before trusting it during an attack.
  • Report any black bear encounters or incident to the local Ranger District, or Fish and Wildlife Office.

Precautions while Camping or Picnicking

  • Planning : Avoid using odorous foods that may attract bears and keep food smells off your clothing.
  • Cooking : Do not store or cook food in or near your tent.
  • Sanitation : Keep a clean campsite by properly disposing of garbage, washing your dishes, and wiping down table tops.
  • Storage : Hang food and anything with strong odors (toothpaste, bug repellent, pet food, soap, candles, suntan lotion) out of the reach of bears. Hang bagged food 10-12 feet high and 6-10 feet from tree trunk or side support. If no trees are available, store your food in airtight or specially designed bear-proof containers, or the trunk or your vehicle.
  • Disposal: Place your trash in garbage cans if they are provided or Pack your trash out. Don't bury it – bears will dig it up .
  • Contact: Avoid feeding bears. Bears that are fed quickly become conditioned to handouts and may become aggressive towards humans or cause property damage.
  • Pets: keep your pets on a leash
  • Children : Keep children close to camp and teach them about bear safety.

Other Websites on Bear Safety and Awareness

Center for Wildlife Information- Be Bear Aware

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife  - Living with Bears