Here is my weekly recorded version and answers to questions from my previous webinar on how to live safely with bears!
Can you fly with bear pepper spray? You can certainly not carry any pepper spray in your carry-on. You are technically allowed to carry up to 4 ounce cans in your checked luggage. A 4 ounce can will shoot 20 feet and will work for a bear. Normally I would prefer a 10 ounce can that can spray up to 40 feet, but a 4 ounce can will still work. Most areas places near bear country will have the 10 ounce cans for sale, such as places near Yellowstone, Glacier, and in Alaska. When flying in a small bush plane, you cannot carry pepper spray inside the cabin, as if it goes off, the plane will likely crash as the pilot would be incapacitated. The cans can be stored in the floats of a floatplane, or duct taped to the strut of a wheel plane. Dont forget about this if the pilot forgets to ask!!!!
Marine signal flares cannot be flown commercially at all, and it is considered a federal offense. They must be specially shipped to the location, or bought on location at a marine safety store.
Can you talk more about the policy of officials finding and killing a bear that has attacked a human? I don’t understand this. If the bear is very aggressive, and continues to attack people, or if it has consumed a human, they will be removed. If the attack is only a defensive attack, officials will often let the bear go. This decision is up to the managing agency, such as the Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, or the state wildlife agency, depending on the location.
Do you carry a tranquilizer with you when you are leading a group and you sit near the bears? I don’t recommend giving people sedatives while bear viewing, as they need to be alert to enjoy their trip. Tranquilizing bears is for research purposes, or rescue efforts only, and administered only be specially trained biologists.
Do you act the same when you are near a polar bear versus a grizzly bear or brown bear? It really depends on the location, but yes, you to read the individual situation, as some bears of either species react to humans differently. There are some very dangerous grizzlies, and some that are habituated to humans and ignore them. There are some polar bears which can be aggressive, and others in some places have learned to respect and tolerate humans on the ground with them. In Churchill, we stay safe in vehicles. Polar bears are not always the man eaters that people assume. Brown bears are the same- in a a National Park like Katmai, bears view humans as neutral, and tolerate them, while in a place like Kodiak, where they hunted, their fear of humans can lead to them being dangerous in surprise encounters.
How common is it for bear cubs from different mothers to play together? Very rare! this is a special situation in a very special place, with very special bears.
What is the life expectency of a male and female brown bear? Bears generally live to 25-30, with females living longer than males. The massive body size, and damage to their bodies in mating season or dominance battles limits the life of males.
Do brown bears have the same partner for life? No, bears mate with many individuals during mating season. Their bond can last for a few minutes, to a few weeks, and ends when the male is attracted to another female, or if another stronger male steals her.
Is Melissa still alive? Yes!! She will be around for quite a while!
Do you carry bear spray on these brown bear tours? Only if I am camping. I would use it in a very bad situation if a bear acquired our food. During the day, I normally only carry flares.
How big of a decline in the polar bear population has happened in the last 2 years in Alaska due to ice melt? The two subpopulations of polar bears in Alaska, The Beaufort Sea population and Bering/Chukchi Sea population, are both declining. The population of the latter is unknown, and is around 900 for the Beaufort Sea population. Polar bear populations drastically dwindled due to over-harvest in the 1950’s until the mid 1970’s when polar bears became protected. They have recovered since then, but now are declining due to loss of sea ice.
So is it necessary to win a lottery to photograph bears at the salmon run even if you’re on a planned trip or a guided tour? The only places you need to win a lottery are the State run McNeil River and Anan Creek Game Sanctuaries. Anywhere else, all you need to do is book a trip with an outfitter.
We encountered bears in the Buffalo National River when putting out Gypsy Moth Traps. They ignored us. It seems Arkansas has a very well behaved population of black bears. I live very close to the Buffalo River and have only seen bears on my camera traps at night.
As a guide, have you ever had a visitor who just wouldn’t comply with your guidance on how to behave around the bears? What did you do? What did the bear do? Everyone always does as I ask. Sometimes people like to fall behind the ground and take images, and I have to ask them stay with us, but they always comply. When the group gets spread out, it is disrespectful to the bears, as we are taking up more space in their habitat than we need to. Spread out groups are more intimidating to the bears, and curious bears are more likely to approach and intimidate people on their own.
Do you approve of bear spray? In certain situations, yes. They are much better than guns. If it is very windy, it is less effective, and can blow back into the group. I dont use it in Katmai because body language and voice is effective, and in rare cases, a flare must be used. I dont want to hurt the bears with spray, so I dont use it. But I encourage inexperienced people on their own to carry pepper spray. Flares can be a fire hazard in very dry areas, so use caution there.
Do bears ever closely approach the tourists? How do you have people deal with that? Bears sometimes approach too close for my comfort, so I just yell at them to back off. The people I am guiding just stay seated, and dont have to anything. I handle it.
In case of emergency, how are you equipped to protect the tourists with you? For bears, signal flares are my backup plan if my body language doesn’t work, but I have only had to use flares about 5 times in my life, and never used pepper spray or a firearm.
How do electric fences work? A DC current circulates through wire or ribbon, and when something touches the ribbon they get a brief, painful zap. The electricity originates from a battery bank.
Which bears are safer, easier to be around, brown or black bears? Both can be very difficult or very easy, depending on how those bears were treated by past humans. In Katmai, the brown bears are very easy to be around, but there are also may places where the black bears are used to people and are very easy as well.
Does this set up bears to hunters? Normally, it would, but we don’t habituate bears in places where they are hunted. Hunted bears dont like people and are difficult/dangerous to try to view at close range.
Do young bears who have separated from their mothers act differently than adult bears when you interface with them in the wild? It depends on how much experience the young bears have with people. When they first separate, they can be pretty obnoxious and approach us, but they are easy to deter with voice and noise.
Can you list best way(s) to keep bears away from one’s food supplies? You can use bear proof trash cans, bear containers, and electric fences.
HI Brad, Jim Phillips here. I’ve enjoyed your webinar! I wonder if you’d elaborate on the importance of practicing with personal defense tools, such as pepper spray, before they’re needed and the resources available to backcountry users to do so. Thank you Jim! This is a great point. If you are going to use any tools to keep you safe around bears, you should practice before heading into bear country. You should know how pepper spray, fares, and electric fences work. If people ignore my advice and attempt to rely on firearms for bear protection, you need to be a very experienced expert, or the firearm could result in a total disaster.
What does it feel like to stare directly into the eyes of a brown bear? It is an intimate thrill that, even after more than 24 years of being around bears, sends amazing chills through my body. It is the most powerful and fantastic wildlife experience I have ever had with any animal.
Would it be safe for somebody to go in bear country alone if they’re an experienced guide or experienced in that field? Yes, this would help, however, someone’s experience in Yellowstone or Glacier would be much less useful in Katmai, or around polar bears. Each bear country is unique. But for a guide like myself, in my region, yes it is safe to go alone. The bears can be more curious and difficult to deter when it is just one person, but it isn’t dangerous.
Highest concentration of bears. How many? McNeil River can have over 70 bears in the waterfall at one time. In Katmai you can have 30 ore more bears in view at one time, and around 3 bears per square mile as a whole, but those bears are highly concentrated in small habitats, over a hundred bears in a square mile.
Are you concerned the boom in ecotourism will change the way the bears react to humans? The bears have seen a slow and steady increase of humans over the years as bear viewing has increased in popularity, and have adjusted very well in my opinion.
When visiting Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Tetons we were told to carry bear spray. We never had to use it. Does it hurt the bear and how long does the spray impact the bear? It will really hurt the bears, but normally it will be wear off in an hour or so. There was one case of a bear blinding itself by rubbing its face too hard, but this is extremely rare. You should carry spray in those Parks to protect yourself.
What is being done to halt the recent Trump ruling that mother bears with cubs, and wolves with pups can be killed while hibernating/denning? Hopefully Trump is not reelected, for this and many reasons. This is so heartbreaking. I would suggest supporting the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, who is the frontline leader of these issues.