living safely in bear country

Years ago, on his first trip to the Yukon, Brian Smart spotted a grizzly bear for the first time and was enthralled. The animal was happily munching flowers in a meadow about 100 metres away.

Years ago, on his first trip to the Yukon, Brian Smart spotted a grizzly bear for the first time and was enthralled.

The animal was happily munching flowers in a meadow about 100 metres away.

“I was impressed with his size and how powerful he was,” says Smart, who now works as a deputy conservation officer with the Yukon’s Environment department.

“I realized later that there was no reason to be afraid if you understand how and why bears behave a certain way.

“Having a healthy respect for them is definitely the best way to go, and the best way to be prepared for sharing the bush with them.”

Since that first encounter Smart has nursed a long a long-time fascination with the animals.

And now part of his job is to pass that sense of fascination, along with a good deal of knowledge about the animals, on to others.

On June 2, at the MacBride Museum of Yukon History, Smart will talk about how to identify bears and bear tracks, different bear behaviours, deterrents and attractants, and what to do if you encounter a bear at home or on the trails this summer.

There will be a shorter presentation beginning at 6pm geared toward families with children.

Then, at 7:30 p.m., Smart will give another talk for adults and older children.

These presentations are co-sponsored by the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and the MacBride Museum. Admission is free and all are welcome.

Smart, along with his colleagues at Environment Yukon, have been busy this spring giving presentations on bear safety to school groups, workers, recreational groups, and visitors to the Yukon.

“The bears are busy right now—they woke up not that long ago and they’re hungry and trying to put some weight back on,” says Smart.

Bears are constantly searching for food and are opportunistic feeders, which means they’ll take advantage of pretty much any opportunity to feed themselves.

Bears are omnivores so just about anything from salmon to berries could be considered a meal.

Would bears consider humans as a meal?

Not likely.

“The chance of being attacked by a bear is extraordinarily low,” he adds.

“Ninety-nine times out of a hundred bears will do everything they can to avoid a conflict; this is true of encounters they have with human and is also true of encounters they have with other bears.

“Most of the time when I talk to people about having seen a bear they comment that the only thing they saw was its rear end running away from them into the bush.”

Overall, Yukoners have tons of outdoor knowledge, but it only takes one person to make a careless decision on managing attractants or trying to get too close to a bear to cause a big problem, says Smart.

“Those occasional bad decisions by humans can be dangerous for the person and often result in bad news for the bear.”

The key to making the right decisions is being able to understand bear behaviour.

Smart would like people to come away from his presentation with a bit of knowledge and understanding of both black and grizzly bears

“I want people to be able to enjoy the outdoors without having to be concerned about sleeping in a tent,” says Smart.

“Ultimately, I’d like people to come away from these talks with a better understanding of bears which will help them enjoy the outdoors more. And this, in turn, will also be better for the bears.”

This column is provided by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Each week it will explore a different morsel of Yukon’s modern history. For more information, or to comment on anything in this column e-mail lchalykoff@macbridemuseum.com.

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