Q: I read that breaking a stick scares away bears. Is that true?—Jim K., via email
A: You humans and your reading. Sometimes I think your higher intelligence gets you into more trouble than its worth—give me a sunny day, a field full of berries, and a river loaded with salmon, and I’m happy.
Nevertheless, what you’ve read isn’t totally false; as usual, it depends on the type of bear. Black bears are notoriously skittish, and a snapping stick might be enough to startle me and make me high-tail it away from you (some Forest Service regulations recommend breaking sticks along with yelling and banging pots and pans to scare away a black).
If I’m a grizzly, a stick is enough to certainly make me snap to attention, but it might not be enough to let me know you’re human. Bear researcher Tom Smith got brown bears in Katmai to respond instantly to a pencil breaking, but they didn’t exactly make me take off.
In both cases, stick-breaking isn’t nearly as efficient as the human voice. It’s more likely to blend in as a natural sound of the forest, get drowned out by rivers or wind, or possibly elicit my curiosity because it’s not explicitly a human noise. You’re better off singing, yodeling, or talking loudly to get me moving on.
Besides, it seems like be a pain to constantly find and break all those sticks when the alternative is simply using your voice. But what do I know—I don’t even have opposable thumbs.
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