With the number of bear sightings in the Berkshires increasing we thought it would be a good idea to pass on some information from the National Park Service on what to do if you encounter a bear.

First just seeing a bear is not a daily occurrence so it can be very exciting to see one. I have only seen one bear in my life and that was crossing the road near the Pittsfield airport last fall. According to the National Park Service (NPS) bear attacks are rare but they do occur in unique situations that can cause serious injury or death. The NPS says there is not a single strategy that will work in all situations but there are steps you can take. Below are some basic guidelines.

Bears would be more likely not to engage with you if you keep your distance and try your best not to surprise or startle them. Stay clear away from any bear and especially cute cubs. A protective mother bear could and will go to great lengths to protect their young, as you would pull out all stops to protect your child.

If you see a bear and you know that it sees you, the NPS says to identify yourself. Talk calmly so the bear knows that you are human and not potential prey. Speak in low tones and try to stay calm. Screaming or excited behavior on your part could send the situation spiraling out of control. Remain still and stand your ground while waving your arms slowly and keep talking to them. The more human-like and calm you are the less likely of a bear acting aggressively. A bear might stand on their hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious and not threating according to the NPS.

If you are with a child pick them up immediately. Try to keep them calm and quiet. You should make yourself look as large as possible. If you are wearing a backpack do not drop or take it off. It could be a source of protection if you need it to be.

If the bear is stationary and calm, move slowly and sideways so you never lose eye contact. Do not run! Bears are fast runners and like dogs will chase fleeing animals. If the bear follows you, stand your ground once again and continue to talk to it in a low tone. At some point it is likely to lose interest and move on.

There are two species of bears. Brown bears, also known as grizzly bears, and black bears. Black bears are the only type of bear you will encounter in Massachusetts. They are the largest meat-eating mammal in New England. The NPS suggests that playing dead might be the right course of action when encountering an aggressive grizzly at close range, but playing dead is not advised when a black bear engages with you. Before any encounter try the tips, you read above. Slowly retreating to a safe place like a building or car if possible. If an approaching black bear gets aggressive the NPS says fight back using any object available. Focus your blows to the bear’s face and muzzle. If you have reached this stage the bear considers you a threat to her young or sees you as prey. The other prey (praying) might also be a good idea at this time.

If you are walking in the woods or camping bear spay can be a great tool to defend yourself against an aggressive bear. You would use bear spray the same way you would use mace on an attacker. Bear spray and human mace are not the same. You should always buy EPA approved spray. Keep in mind it is not a repellent like bug spray. Do not apply it to yourself. Only use it in the direction of an aggressive bear.

Other tips for avoiding an encounter with a bear…
1-Be a loud hiker
2-Give bears space
3-Respect a bear meal. Stay away from dead animals.
4-Keep your camp clean and never store your food in or around your tent where it is assessable.
5-Leave your dog home. Do not walk your dog in the woods or leave them in your yard unattended. You probably saw the video that went viral yesterday showing a teen pushing a bear off a wall on her property after her dogs aggressively approached the bear. All involved are lucky to still be alive. The video is a good indication of how quick a bear is and how aggressive they can be when provoked and in this case also protecting her cubs that were also on the wall.  Watch the video here.

Click this link for more helpful bear tips from the National Park Service.

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