From Your Backyard to Bear Country


by Susy Alkaitis, deputy director for the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics


Montana’s Glacier National Park is known for its unparalleled beauty, its multitude of lakes, and its extremely healthy bear population. Black bears and grizzlies wander across the paths of Glacier’s park visitors with unnerving frequency. They are, as many know, virtually always hungry.


While bears are smart, curious animals that generally avoid people, if startled or drawn to the sliver of bacon you are cooking three miles away, they can be potentially dangerous. Bears have senses of smell more than seven times that of bloodhounds and can detect your human scent even hours after you, the unsuspecting hiker, pass by.


Knowing that bears are at play and that there is a strong possibility of coming into contact with one, people visiting Glacier National Park want to be informed about coexisting in bear country. The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, an organization that partners with the National Park Service, provides skills and detailed education about ways to minimize human impact on the outdoors and with wildlife. From the way you store your food to the scent of your sunscreen, from the time of day you’re hiking to your group size, the center provides the relevant information to reduce your impact on bears and their impact on you.


Tips for Coexisting with Bears in Bear Country


Hiking safely in bear country:

  • Most attacks occurred because people have surprised bears. Hike in groups in daylight hours, making human sounds by talking, singing, or clapping your hands.
  • Bear food sources such as berry patches, fish spawning areas, and animal carcasses should be avoided.


At camp:

  • Keep a clean camp.
  • Store only sleeping gear and clean clothing in your tent. Pitch your tent at least 100 yards upwind of your kitchen when possible. Never sleep in clothes worn while cooking.
  • Hang all food, garbage, cooking gear, and other scented items in a tree at least 12 feet above the ground and six feet from the tree trunk or nearby branches. Another option is to use a specially designed bear-proof canister.


If you encounter a bear:

  • DO NOT RUN. Bears can easily outrun humans. Running may elicit attacks from otherwise non-aggressive bears.
  • If the bear is aware of you but has not acted aggressively, back away slowly while talking in an even tone or not at all. Do not make eye contact.
  • If a bear approaches, only climb trees if you can get more than 15 feet off the ground. All black bears and some grizzly bears can climb after you.
  • If the bear makes contact with you, drop to the ground and lie flat on your stomach with your legs spread apart slightly and play dead. Cover the back of your neck with your hands and keep on your pack to protect your back. Do not move until the bear has gone.


For a complete list of recommendations about coexisting in bear country, please contact the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.


About Leave No Trace
In its simplest form, Leave No Trace is about making good decisions to protect the world around you. Born from a concept developed in the 1960s and initially built from a framework of seven outdoor principles, Leave No Trace has grown to be a multifaceted program that addresses skills, ethics, and behaviors for all types of outdoor recreation. Through targeted education, research, and outreach, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics ensures the long-term health of our natural world.
The organization tackles a spectrum of topics from bear interactions to outdoor skills and ethics for activities like mountain biking, fishing, and even hiking with your dog. Scientific research – ecosystem-by-ecosystem and activity-by-activity – shapes the center’s programs. From work with our country’s National Park System to our elementary schools, the center provides workshops and tools for all levels to help people enjoy the outdoors responsibly.
Partnerships with groups such as the National Park Service are key to the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics’ success. So is the 14-year partnership with Subaru of America, which helps to put teams of Leave No Trace educators on the road year-round to provide site-specific training and outreach in all corners of the country. The impact of Subaru’s support has been unequivocal.
Through the years, the Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers have been positioned to provide training and outreach to millions of people throughout the United States. Instead of focusing the teams’ energy on restoration and clean-up projects, they work with people to help them minimize their impact on the outdoors – all in the name of protecting our outdoor landscapes for our enjoyment and for the future.
Today, the Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers provide resources for park rangers who want to share Leave No Trace skills and ethics with visitors. They provide activity-based curriculum for teachers who want to help their students become environmental stewards for the outdoors, whether a school yard, a city park, or a mountainside. The teams are in a unique position to travel to where they are needed most. So while you’re keeping your eyes peeled for grizzlies on your next trip into the wild, or if you are just hanging out in your local city park, don’t be surprised if you see a Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Team pulling up to set up shop. Unlike grizzlies, the teams like it when you approach them and engage.




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