Q: While sleeping this past summer, what I thought was a bear entered my camp. After the initial fear passed, I wondered: Should just sit quiet in my tent, or attempt to scare the bear away? —Steve, via email
p.s. I chose to leave the tent and scare the bear away, which turned out to be a tree stump.
A: Wow—that was a close one, Steve. You ever seen a tree stump victim? You'll wish I mauled you instead.
As for me (get used to this answer): It depends. If you know you're in black-bear-only country, you're best off grabbing your flashlight/headlamp so you can safely check out where I am, and then yelling or banging pots and pans to scare me off. That usually does the trick, and you'll be doing me a favor by associating a negative experience with both you and your tasty, tasty food. Don't ever approach me, though—if the noise isn't scaring me away, I'm likely too habituated. I'll probably eat your food, shuffle off, and rangers will deal with me later (gulp).
However, if you're in potential grizzly territory, you should probably stay in your tent and leave me the the hell alone. If I'm a grizzly, I won't scare easily when I get exploratory, and you shouldn't risk the chance of provoking a defensive or offensive attack. Most likely, I'll ransack your food, or simply cruise the scene and leave. Either way, report my presence to a ranger as soon as possible (gulp again—why am I telling you this?).
Of course, your first and smartest line of defense is to keep me out of camp in the first place. Check with rangers about bear activity before you head out, and avoid camps where I've picked up a taste for food and I'm a known visitor. Once you get to camp, employ proper procedures to keep me from messing with your Pop Tarts—park-approved food storage lockers or bear poles are usually best, followed by bear canisters, with bear bags behind those (I'm a black bear, I might know how to get to bear bags—they're practically teaching classes in Yosemite).
Got a question for the bear? Send it to email@example.com.