A grizzly cruises along a roadside bank watched by passers by on Sept. 23, 2017 near Carcross. With multiple sightings of both black bears and grizzlies already reported in and around Whitehorse, Environment Yukon is reminding residents to take preventative measures to avoid human-bear conflicts this season. (Submitted)

Busy start to Yukon bear season

Headed for the bush? Travel in groups, make noise and for the love of God don’t feed the bears

If you have open piles of garbage or unsecured recycling bins on your property, now is the time to clean it up and lock it down — and not just for aesthetic reasons.

The same goes for people who may have been putting off getting electric fencing for their chicken coops, or heading into the bush without making plenty of noise.

The Yukon’s bears have now awoken from their winter slumbers, and with multiple sightings of both black bears and grizzlies already reported in and around Whitehorse, Environment Yukon is reminding residents to take preventative measures to avoid human-bear conflicts this season.

“There’s been no serious conflicts, to my knowledge, this year, but lots of sightings,” Environment Yukon’s hunter education coordinator Jim Welsh said in an interview May 31.

“The bears are hungry, they’ve just come out of their dens and they’re looking food and they’re looking for anything, any way to get energy easily.”

In previous years, almost every call that conservation officers go to regarding a human-bear confrontation was caused by humans, whether unwittingly or not, by not storing attractants properly, Welsh said.

Bears are attracted to anything with a strong smell, including food, garbage, recycling, scraps left over from a hunt, petroleum products, bird feeders, and even livestock and pets. It’s crucial that people store all those things properly, whether they’re at home or out camping, for their own safety and for the bears’ safety too.

“We really want to develop a safe bear culture in the Yukon,” Welsh said.

“It’s okay to talk to your neighbours if their garbage isn’t managed properly and encourage each other to be safe. It’s going to keep our bears safe, it’s going to keep everybody safe. So take a walk around your house, look and see if there’s anything there that might be bringing these animals into our urban areas. Everywhere in the Yukon is bear country.”

For anyone taking part in outdoor activities that involve being in the bush — hiking, mountain biking and trail running, for example — Welsh recommends that people don’t go alone and that they make noise to make bears aware of their presence. This can include doing something as simple as strapping on bells onto your backpack or singing and calling out as they move along.

“Anything that you can use to make noise will certainly help,” Welsh said. “Being in a group is the best thing you can do, there’s very few bear confrontation incidents in larger groups of four or more, but any way you can make noise is the best policy when you’re travelling in the woods … Bears don’t want to interact with humans in general, so if they know you’re there, they’ll typically not have a conflict.”

Should you happen to stumble across a bear, though, Environment Yukon has some guidelines on how to handle the situation.

If the bear isn’t approaching you, it’s recommended that everyone in the group bunch together and then back away slowly — don’t run — while speaking calmly and firmly to the bear until it’s out of sight. If the bear begins approaching, it’s recommended to stand your ground, wave your arms and start yelling at the bear. If the bear continues approaching and is within 10 metres of you, you can deploy bear spray, and then quickly retreat — but again, don’t run — as the bear backs off or tries to clean the spray off its face.

Welsh said anyone spending time in known bear habitats should be carrying bear spray, calling it the “most effective tool” to deploy in bear confrontations. Hikers, campers and other people doing outdoor activities should also keep their garbage in check.

“Don’t leave anything behind. Don’t let our bears become habituated to trails, looking for food, try not to throw your fruit and apple cores out and leave them on the trail, you’re going to make a problem for someone else later,” Welsh said.

For drivers who come across bears during their adventures on the road, Welsh said it’s okay to admire them from a distance, but recommended moving on as quickly as possible.

“What we’re really trying to do is just minimize habituation of bears to people,” he said. “We understand that people want to see bears. It’s a really special thing that we have in the Yukon, that we get to experience, but try and minimize your contact with those bears at any given time. I personally just encourage people to slow down, just take a look and keep moving on. Try not to stay there too long.”

Want to report a bear sighting, or someone who’s leaving attractants out? Call Environment Yukon’s Turn in Poachers and Polluters (TIPP) line at 1-800-661-0525. You can also file reports online here.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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