Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Snakes, Flies, and Bears.. OH MY!
The purpose of this post is to completely or at least partially alleviate the stress and the hesitation to embark on an adventure in the wilderness or natural setting of choice that could really be beneficial to your overall health, enjoyment of life, and relationship with the AWESOME natural world around you. I use the word AWESOME often and freely as it is my favorite adjective to describe natural world for it serves as the only one I feel adequate to use. Awesome and nature go together like peanut butter and jelly.
awe·some/ˈôsəm/Adjective1. Extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear. 2. Extremely good; excellent
Note in the first part of the definition that this is a very positive word, however, the object that it describes may inspire apprehension or fear. It is ok and perfectly normal to have these feelings about the natural world around us!!!!, especially when we consider the elements in this topic of discussion ex. bears, snakes, etc. This is evolution and biology at its finest and how the human race has survived to be such a successful species. Unfortunately we have lost touch with our natural world and it is our responsibility to become familiar with it and all that inhabits it so that we may hurdle the apprehension and fear and convert those emotions into admiration, knowledge, understanding, and most importantly respect.
I want to focus on the U.S. east coast due to my extended background with the area and associated wildlife, but I will mention bit of information about some west coast backpacking safety as well and I can certainly find answers to any questions that may arise through the course of reading this. Bears are probably the one animal that backpackers/hikers/campers fear the most and those that do brave the elements and enter their battlegrounds often find their mind occupied with the fear of a bear around the corner and lay awake in an uncomfortable tent with bloodshot eyes; lids stapled to their brow, squeezing the life out of a very cheap, over-priced, and mostly ineffective can of mace and struggle to enjoy the beauty around them. (Note: A bear is not going to be trying to steal your car keys in some dark city alley-lose the mace if you want). The best protection to bears is respect and knowledge. The only species of bear that is inhabits the east coast is the black bear Ursus americanus. When compared to the grizzly/brown bear in the far western U.S., and the polar bear located in the arctic, the black bear is a very docile and an extremely nonconfrontational animal. I will not say that a black bear is harmless and would never injure or attack a human because that would be a lie. The truth is the black bear is a very powerful animal that can outrun and outmaneuver even the most athletic human being and is potentially dangerous and a confrontation could lead to injury or even death in the most limited of circumstances. Statistics show that there were just over 20 casualties from 1900 - 1985 directly related to north american black bear attacks; more than half of which occured in the western U.S. As you have heard all your life you are more likely to get struck by lightning than attacked by a bear. This couldn't be more true. You are actually several fold times more likely to be killed by lighting than even have an encounter with a bear that leaves even the smallest of injuries (not killed). The prior statement still usually does not alleviate the fear that there is still even a minute chance your life may end in a blood curdling, painful, death, jam packed with primal rage. Many of these attacks previously mentioned were from handlers or people that were directly antagonizing or harassing the bear. So out of the 20 attacks mentioned, cut this number in more than over half because our location on the east coast (as previously mentioned, many of the black bear attacks in these statistics were located out west), cut this number in half again and take into account that you will choose to respect the animal and not feed, terrorize, or antagonize a bear and you are left with the a handful of severe bear attacks that have resulted in serious injury or death in the last 100 YEARS! The main idea here is not to equip yourself with guns, bear spray, or goofy and embarrassing bells tied to your ankle, but to equip yourself with the knowledge and understanding of this animal's behavior and have to the tools to know how to handle any situation that may arise when and if an encounter occurs.
The big question: What do I do if I'm face to face with a black bear???
1. This will be an extremely rare occurrence first of all as black bear are extremely skiddish.
2. If a bear does enter your camp or does not run away immediately it is because they are either hungry or
a curious bear as they have personalities just like you and me (this is a characteristic that can be displayed on the rare occasion by a cub or young adolescent.)
3. Black bears do not prefer to eat meat and very rarely do unless they come across an already deceased small mammal (carrion). The most important thing to remember is DO NOT EVER IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCE FEED A BEAR!!!! Many people think it is great to see bear close up from their vehicle or comfort of some type of shelter, however they do not consider others who may encounter that animal in the wild with only a backpack on and miles from civilization. Once a bear is fed by a human it will associate people with an easy meal in which they do not have to expend a large amount of energy which is the primary feeding goal of a bear so don't ever in any circumstance feed a bear even if you see the starving ribs poking out of the cutest of bear cubs. Bears who associate people with food will quickly become well-known characters and will most soon meet an the inevitable demise of a sure death. If you feed a bear you are killing it; as simple that.
4. Even curious bears scare off easily: As goofy as it seems it is important not to engage a bear in any way. Yelling and banging pots or trekking poles together should ward off a curious bear.
5. Never run from a bear as it can entice a chase to begin in which you WILL NOT get far. Running can initiate the bears instinctual. If a bear does not retreat then simply walk away slowly and avoid long periods of direct eye contact which may be perceived as aggressive behavior to the bear. Loosen your hip belt while walking away in the rare case that a chase does ensue.
6. Do not try to climb a tree as black bears are excellent climbers. (Ive attached some photos of these almost arboreal creatures that I saw on my thru-hike).
7. In you ever do find yourself in a legitimate bear attack situation it is important to know what to do: If ever are in a physical encounter (attack) with a black bear DO NOT play dead. Fight back with all your might. It could save your life. Use rocks and target sensitive areas e.g. tip of the snout and eyes (these guys are tough and do not have many sensitive areas.) Equip yourself with first aid knowledge and procedure if you ever enter the woods even for a day hike.
8. Now you have the knowledge and can be confident and relaxed when sharing and entering black bear habitat which is the most important aspect to appreciating and respecting black bears.
Bears are awesome creatures and have amazing personalities and once you have seen one I can almost guarantee you will be in awe of this animal. Seeing a bear in the wild is one of the most unforgettable experiences and leaves you anticipation for the next encounter. I know it is a rare treat to see a bear in the wild and it is always a welcome experience for me on my backpacking trips.
I will end this post without delving into the other potential dangers of backpacking in another post due to the lengthiness of this one. Please feel free to comment, discuss, or ask any questions related to this post or any other topic you are interested in.