Agassiz resident Emile Bertrand had taken his rescue dog, Molly, to East Harrison for a stroll through Spirit Trail on Friday when he came across something that took his adrenaline from zero to 100.
What could possibly scare an adult man with a Rhodesian Ridgeback-cross at his side on a warm, spring day?
A bumbling baby black bear.
Bertrand said he was enjoying the trail when Molly took off, chasing what he thought was a raccoon. He realized, as a second little critter climbed the tree to escape Molly’s curiosity, that he was looking at black bear cubs.
“I stopped dead in my tracks, and thought, ‘where’s the mom?’” he recalled. “And then I saw the mama bear.”
The mother black bear sat about one hundred feet away, eyeing him down. Fortunately, Bertrand wasn’t standing in the path between the mother and her cubs.
He got control of Molly and quickly removed himself and his dog from the area.
|Yes, they’re cute. But black bears – and their cubs – are safest when they are as far away from humans as possible.(Hope Mountain Black Bear Committee/Facebook)|
According to Lydia Koot, chair of the Hope Mountain Black Bear Committee, Bertrand did just about everything right.
“If you see just a cub around, you have to be aware that the mother will be somewhere close by,” she said. “The best thing to do is what you are always supposed to do if you run into a bear: Stand still… talk to the bear, make yourself look big and start backing up.”
“Do not turn around and run because it will trigger something in the bear and it will chase you.”
The bears Bertrand encountered came out of their winter snooze a bit early, according to Koot. Because of the cubs’ size – roughly that of a raccoon or large house cat – the babies were probably born early this year. Usually moms stay in the den with new babies a bit longer, emerging in mid-May or later.
While more moms and cubs will start stepping into the sunshine this month, male black bears are already waking up, and Koot said it’s important to consider the bear’s safety too.
Most people who enjoy napping know that after waking up from a long one, their immediate state is hunger. It’s no different for black bears, who gorge on springtime greens like grass, dandelions, clovers and skunk cabbage after emerging from their long winter sleep.
But salad is never as filling as a juicy meal. Springtime is when bears are most likely to make their way into town, looking for snacks in garbage bins and bird feeders.
“If a bear comes to your property looking for food and doesn’t find anything it will move on,” said Koot. “But if it finds garbage or finds a bird feeder or any type of food reward, it will be guaranteed back.”
Funny online videos often portray the antics of hungry wildlife trying to fill up on human leftovers, but for many animals – including bears – this type of behaviour can be fatal.
“As a bear comes back to our home for garbage or another attractant, it’s considered a nuisance, and it will be shot. It’s usually human fault that bears have to be destroyed.”
Locking up all garbage, putting away bird feed, cleaning barbecues, not putting out pet food and taking steps to secure anything smelly are some of the best ways to protect bears, said Koot.
“It’s very, very important at this time that we have garbage locked up,” she said. “We can break the cycle.”
In the event of an encounter like Bertrand’s, Koot emphasizes the importance of putting space between yourself and the bear and avoiding the urge to get closer for pictures. An adult black bear seemingly alone may have cubs nearby – up in a tree, and cubs who appear alone will likely have a mother in the area.
“Do not ever approach a bear to feed it or take pictures,” Koot said. “Remove yourself from the situation.”
Some of Koot’s bear safety tips include:
- If you go in the bush or on a local trail, don’t go alone.
- Always make noise. Your own voice is the best option, so bears know that there is humans approaching, but other noisemakers like pebbles in a can, an air horn or even the jingling of keys can be enough to alert a bear of your arrival.
- Don’t walk with ear buds in. You need to hear the noises of the forest around you.
- Keep an eye out for signs of bears in the area. They’re insect foraging results can lead to large overturned rocks, pulled apart logs and bark torn from trees. Bear skat is another sign you might have stumbled into a bear’s vicinity.
- Bring bear spray with you, and know how to use it.
- Keep your dog on a leash. If your dog runs ahead and encounters a bear, it could lead the bear back to you.