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Ask a Bear: Safe to Approach Black Bears?

Our resident grizzly tackles all of your burning questions in his weekly "Ask a Bear" column.


Q. Dear Bear,

So if it’s a black bear in Catskills, can I basically approach it and I'll be OK?
— Nicholas L., via Twitter

 


A.
Dear Nicholas,

No. 

Okay, I apologize for being blunt — let’s back up. You see, I’m a bear, and therefore generally leery of and uncomfortable with humans all up in my space. So I got a little nervous. It’s not you; it’s me. If I’m not bothered by your presence, there’s a problem – for both of us. Let me explain.

Approaching me — regardless of species or location – is never a good idea. First of all, you’re not likely to get close: If I smell you or hear you, I’ll probably take off in the opposite direction so I can forage in peace. Healthy, safe bears associate humans with the unfamiliar and therefore tend to avoid them. We’d prefer a modicum of distance (50 yards oughta do it); with that buffer, I’ll probably keep doing what I’m doing (hot guess: eating), and you can take all the photos you want with the zoom lens you bought. If you accidentally encounter me within that distance, alert me to your presence in firm, audible voice and avoid approaching me. If I’m in the trail wait for me to move on or find another way around. If you approach me, the closer you get the more you increase the chance I’ll feel cornered and want to lash out for protection (though I’ll probably just run away or scamper up a tree). 

However, sometimes bears associate humans with garbage, or food, and this is an especially dangerous situation (usually more for me, ahem). If I’m reluctant to move on when you accidentally enter my space, or if I approach you, let the hazing begin: Shout, bang pots and pans, throw rocks if you have to. Associating negative experiences with humans is good for me. In the extremely unlikely event I don’t leave and continue approaching, ready the bear spray (tell me you brought bear spray and know how to use it). If you didn’t, prepare to fight me off.

Black bears are typically not dangerous – but any black bear has the potential to cause harm. And you have the potential to harm me gravely if I get too used to you. In short, no good can come for you or me by approaching me – and that’s as true in the Catskills as it is in Alaska.

—Bear

 

 

READERS COMMENTS

Star
CragMom
Mar 02, 2014

Do NOT approach bears! Period. None. Practice backcountry recreation safety principles including Bear Aware - bear avoid. In bear country humans are in their territory, and even a small bear is far more powerful than any humans. If you need further motivation, think of it in terms of survival and longevity for the bear. If it habituates to humans, that is feels comfortable or dependable on people, it will loose it's respect and fear of humans. This will lead to it's demise or a human death or injury.
If you are close enough to even consider approaching a bear - you are too close. Back away slowly, observe from a distance, and choose another route.

Star
Barb
Feb 28, 2014

What a dumb fake question Nicho. Sophomoric and lame BM.

Star Star Star Star Star
Jerry W Doyle
Feb 28, 2014

There are a list of incidences involving multiple black bear attacks on humans, including "fatal attacks."

A black bear attacked and mauled to death a 12 year old boy in Utah in 2007 near the Timpooneke Campground.

You can go to Wikipedia and get a listing of black bear attacks on humans, and you also will find that some of the attacks were fatal attacks.

A black bear attacked a 61 year old female on July 25, 2011 while she walked her dog at a country club. The woman later died after eleven surgeries from a massive brain hemorrhage.

Another black bear fatally attacked a 64 year man on June 6, 2013 at George Lake near Delta Junction, Alaska. The man's remains later were found in a black bear that state troopers killed.

A black bear attacked fatally a 72 year old female June 2011 near Lillooet, British Columbia.

On August 19, 2010 a black bear mauled fatally, a 24 year male in Columbia Station, Ohio.

In summary, it is myopic for anyone to assume that if the bear is a black bear that the bear poses no level of danger commensurate with its' cousin, the brown (or grizzly). Grizzlies are more dangerous for fatal attacks, but one must respect the black bear, too.

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