|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Our resident grizzly tackles all of your burning questions in his weekly "Ask a Bear" column.
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,
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.