Please Don’t Feed the Bears

This trip is truly an adventure.  An adventure filled with learning and new experiences with each passing day.

This morning while dispersed camping in a remote forest near Yoho National Park in British Colombia, Canada, Timm awoke when he heard what sounded like someone knocking on the side of the RV.  He opened the shades to look out but no one was there.  “I think I hear someone walking around,” he said.  Then, we both felt the RV shake as if someone was pushing on it.  Banging on the window with the palm of his hand, Timm shouted, “It’s a black bear!  He’s biting our tow bar!”  Looking out the window, I could see the bear at the back of the RV, so I pounded on the window and shouted, “Go away, Bear!”  The bear looked up at us and then quickly scampered into the woods.  We watched him as he made his way through the forest, back to the safety of its dark green and lush interior.

Tow bar cover with bear slobber and 4 tooth marks

After giving the bear some time to get farther away from our RV, we went outside to see what–if any–damage the bear had done.  To our surprise, there was bear slobber and 4 small teeth marks through the vinyl cover that protects our tow bar when it’s not in use.  Apparently, the curious bear put the tow bar in his mouth to test if it was edible. 

Most of the national parks in the U.S. and Canada have bear awareness programs that help reduce bear/human encounters.  For example, Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada has a “Bare Campground” program, which requires campers to maintain a food-free space whenever they are not at their camp site.  Campers must store all food in bear-proof storage lockers or inside a hard-sided vehicle.  The park rangers come around periodically to verify proper food storage.  These programs are designed to educate people on how to create an environment that does not attract bears into human occupied spaces, such as campgrounds.

The reason it is so important to keep human food away from bears is because “a fed bear is a dead bear” as the popular saying goes.  Bears are opportunistic and will eat whatever is most easily available to them.  A bear can smell food up to 20 miles away which helps it locate the 35,000 calories PER DAY the bear needs to survive in a very harsh environment where food is often scarce.  Once a bear has gained access to people food, it will quickly learn to pursue this food source, putting itself and humans in conflict.  If a bear repeatedly attempts to get human food, park wildlife staff usually attempt to relocate the bear to a remote location hundreds of miles away.  However, this is usually unsuccessful because bears have very strong homing instincts and often return to the same place they were able to get people food in the past.  After several relocation attempts, park rangers kill the bear so it can no longer endanger humans.  Even worse, sometimes a mother bear who has gained access to people food teaches her cubs this behavior, and they too are destroyed.

We saw this bear about 2 miles from our campsite. Could it be the same bear that visited our RV?

The best way to help a bear survive is to help it avoid people and never let it have people food.  Making noise to let the bear know it’s not in a safe place is the most important first step.  The bear that tried to take a bite out of our tow bar has not returned.  We hope it learned the lesson that this campsite is not an easy place to satisfy its enormous need for food.  We also hope that all future campers who visit this campsite observe bear-safe food storage practices.  This will give this bear the chance to wander these lush forests for many years until it has lived to be a very old bear.  I wish for this bear that some day far in the future, it lays down in the forest for its last of many nights and passes away peacefully dreaming of berries and honey.

Bears are made of the same dust as we, and breathe the same winds and drink the same waters.  A bear’s days are warmed by the same sun, his dwellings are overdomed by the same blue sky, and his life turns and ebbs with heart-pulsings like ours, and was poured from the same First Fountain.  And whether he at last goes to our stingy heaven or no, he has terrestrial immortality.  His life, not long, not short, knows no beginning, no ending.  To him life unstinted, unplanned, is above the accidents of time, and his years, markless and boundless, equal Eternity.
– John Muir, 1871

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