Bear Safety for Families: Notes and News

Mindy O'Neall takes her turn using inert bear spray at Campbell Creek Science Center

Mindy O'Neall takes her turn using inert bear spray at Campbell Creek Science Center

Thanks to all who attended our Bear Safety for Families class last night at Campbell Creek Science Center. It was a great evening just full of useful information about staying safe while recreating with our kids. About 40 people showed up to listen to Bear Instructors Elizabeth Manning of the AK Dept. of Fish and Game, and Colleen Carlson of BLM/CCSC. As promised, we were all given the opportunity to use some inert bear spray and I think everyone found this to be a crucial element of the class. I know I did. AK Dad did, too.

As promised, here are some notes from the workshop, talking about specific things parents can do to help kids understand the healthy respect we should have for bears in Alaska’s woods, without fearing their presence.

Family Tips:

Keep children near at all times. I keep AK Kid within an arm’s reach, and constantly remind him of this family rule. This is critical where brusy areas obstruct views.

Sing songs, shake a can of rocks, make noise. (Not a problem for our family, but we all get tired of talking at some point, where the big bear bells or cans of rocks can help). Here’s a song we’ve been singing lately, or chanting, if you will. “Hey there, hi there, ho there, don’t you eat my toes bear!” AK Kid seems to like it ,judging from how loud he sings.

Make  a “family sandwich” while hiking. Parents/adults should be at either end of a line of kids. Enforce, expect kids to obey the rule. Period. Play “follow the leader” if  you get protests).

Practice, practice, practice with your kids. They rehearse fire drills, earthquakes, and tsunamis, why not bears? Make it a role playing exercise to show how fast your family can move together if a bear is spotted.

Bigger kids can begin to learn about why bears act the way they do. Did you know that Black Bears are meant for climbing, so they will usually head for the nearest tree if threatened? Brownies, on the other hand, were meant to live in treeless areas, so they are more likely to stand their ground and react defensively if threatened. Check out the “Bear and Moose Safety in a Box” info from Campbell Creek Science Center and spend a day getting acquainted with bears. It’s free and worth the time.

Watch for signs of bear in an area; trails, dug up plants, scat, claw marks on trees, all indicators a bear has been in the area.

Stay unplugged in the woods. No ear buds, teens.

Leash the dog or leave it at home. Before the class last night, we saw a dad, two unleashed dogs, and two tiny children all walking through the woods. No bear bells, no noise, not good.

Teach kids that they should NOT RUN if they see a bear. Stop, assess the situation, and do the following: Gather together, parents, get kids near you asap. Get big; raise arms and hands. Talk to the bear; yes, swearing by parents is allowed at this point, but let Mr. or Mrs. Bear know you are a human and not prey. If the bear comes nearer, wave your  hands deliberately and keep talking. A group of people is no match for a bear, they will usually move on after they figure this out.

A bear spotted from a distance (like up a hill or across a river) means you should gather everyone together and while keeping an eye on the bear, begin heading the other way.

Bear spray is an effective deterrant. Take a class to learn proper use and storage. Teach kids that it is a WEAPON, not for their use. That said, parents should use their own judgment to determine when a child is old enough to begin carrying spray of their own.

Bear spray should be carried in a holster, found at most sporting goods stores or REI. It serves a dual purpose; carrying safely and offering one more noise-making method when the lid is flipped up and the velcro screeches, making an unfamiliar noise for the bear.

Be a good neighbor! Kids should learn about attractants; that is, things bears enjoy, like trash. Make kids aware not to throw smelly fish in the trash w/out freezing it first, that trash should go out only on the day of pick-up, and to tell the neighbors to do the same!

Stay tuned for more bear-aware info as we learn all summer long how to keep our families safe! Mindy O’Neall at This Arctic Life was a trooper with her recording equipment last night, and I believe she’ll have more info up on her site.

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