Bears live in the same places where we hike, camp and build homes. This can be of concern for both humans and bears. If a bear obtains food from a home, campsite, backpack, car or dumpster it will make future attempts to obtain human food. This habitation to human food cause the bear to associate people with food and can create a dangerous situation, often leading to the euthanasia of the bear. Messy campers and hikers in the backcountry create dangerous situations by not cleaning up properly after themselves. Bears have amazing memories about where to find food and will frequent the same campsites and areas where they have found food in the past.
Ways to prevent habituation of bears:
Store food, drinks and all scented items toothpaste sunscreen, deodorant etc. in a bear proof container, your locked and secured vehicle or hung properly in a tree, never put these in your tent.
Never eat in your tent
Do not bury or burn food waste
Hang food 10 feet up in a tree and 4 feet from any side supports
Never feed or approach a bear
Pack out ALL of your trash and dispose of it properly
Sleep inside your tent
Take Care While Hiking:
Stay attentive at dawn and dusk
Stick with a group of at least 2 people
Make noise in areas of thick cover
Store food, trash and scented items in airtight plastic bags
If you do encounter a bear, stand your ground and get control of your dog. Give the bear a chance to leave on its own. Often the dog will act as a deterrent, as bears are afraid of dogs. Bears will climb trees to avoid dog encounters, but mothers with cubs and males in mating season may fight back rather than run. If your dog runs away the bear may chase it so maintaining control of your dog is essential to its safety. Do not run away or try and climb a tree. Black bears can run up to 35 miles per hour and are excellent climbers, you cannot outrun or out climb one. If the bear attacks, use bear spray if you have it and then immediately leave the area. If in the very rare chance it does attack you fight back, use rocks, sticks, hiking poles anything you have. This event is highly unlikely. In Maine black bears are called the “ghosts of the woods” because encountering one is so rare, despite their large population in the state. Attacks by bears are even rarer, in the past 30 years there have been 6 attacks in Maine, none were fatal and most were hunters who mistakenly thought the bear was dead. The last recorded incident of a fatal bear attack in New Hampshire was in 1784. Bears are apex predators and deserve our appreciation, consideration and protection.
The Pemigewasset wilderness had a black bear that would frequent three of the American Mountain Club designated campsites in 2012-2013. It would make its way from the Garfield Hut, to 13 Falls tent site, and the Guyot tent site arrive at dusk and walk around the campsites looking for food. This bear was responsible for tearing into people’s tents to try and find food as well as stealing improperly strung bear bags of food from trees. We had an encounter with it one night where it has snapped the branch our food bag was hung on and was in the midst of munching away at our previsions when we went to investigate the loud snap and tearing sound we had heard. We arrived to discover a medium sized black bear, that upon seeing us stood up to protect its cache. We yelled and threw rocks at it, while our dog that was on leash barked and growled at it. It did eventually back down but not before eating most of our food, that was meant to last three days. For the remainder of the night through the tent site we heard people banging pots and pans together, dogs barking and people making noise to scare it away. Our dog spent the night growling, and fiercely barking at any outside sound while we lay in the tent wide awake until dawn. In the morning we spoke with other hikers and discovered that same night the bear had destroyed a tent fly and gotten into someone’s tent. It was also known by the caretaker of the site to frequent the area where it had successfully gotten food in the past. In this instance the dog acted as a first alarm system for alerting us to the presence of the bear and probably aided in fending it off more than we could ourselves. The fate of this particular bear is unknown at this time but it is an example of what can happen when bears become habituated to human presence and food. I doubt this ended well for the bear as the old moniker goes “a fed bear, is a dead bear”.