A Pine Needle Fell in the Forest


Wednesday thoughts


"A pine needle fell in the forest. The eagle saw it. The deer heard it. The bear smelled it." - Native American Proverb


There are bears in the forest

    I am not a bear biologist or researcher so this text is only based on my own observations and experience and not necessarily the reality..

    Summertime in the deep boreal forest not only mean mosquitos and fires, but also bear encounters if you are unlucky. Every day we were out in the field we would see tracks of mainly bears but also wolfs in one way or another.


    Mostly bear tracks, but of course also scat and markings on trees. Our sole protection is bear spray, which is kind of a concentrated pepper spray which is suppose to deter bears from attacking you, but yeah, you have to use it when the bear is almost right on you.


Rifle Anyone?    

    Of course you can carry a rifle if you need to. In Alaska almost every person has a gun of some sort. Mostly to hunt, but you also definitely see the people at the grocery store with a handgun tucked in their pants or a holster hanging on their side, sometimes concealed sometimes not, what I think about that is a whole different story. Going back to the use of a rifle as bear protection, well if you have a rifle and intend to use it for protection, you need to practice with it on a regular basis. I don't know how you feel when you encounter a bear or at least see a bear, I get nervous. Imagine trying to aim at a Grizzly at the same time as it is charging you, fast. Grizzlies can run up to 30 miles per hr....that is about 48 km per hr. 


    I have definitely had sketchy situations out in the field, where I have failed to make enough noise, or had other issues where my, and/or the other animals awareness has been reduced. When I grew up in Sweden I learned to be quiet in the forest, don't scream to loud while playing. In Alaska on the other hand its very different. A lot of people who have had a bear encounter says  they thought they were being loud enough, so try your best at being loud, and then be a bit louder than that. 


Bear Encounters

    I once attended a lecture given by a wildlife biologist, an expert on bears, and he said you can do everything you can possibly do WRONG when it comes to bears, and yet you'll get out alive at least 90% of the time. So even if you do everything wrong, for instance throwing food at the bear, you still (statistically) have a very good chance to get out alive. 

"The bear retreated for a moment but then came back and began circling Jones-Robinson, who took her pack off and threw a package of macaroni and cheese at the bear hoping to distract it."


"While playing dead is the proper technique once a bear has already made contact or contact is imminent, playing dead too early can cause the bear to become curious, according to information from the park."


    Bears with cubs is a whole different story, you do not want to come between a mama bear and her cubs, but being attacked by the same bear twice, in one day after deploying bearspray seems a bit odd to me, and could probably be put in the category below, of bears that are just not right. But I am no expert in bear behavior. 

"During the first attack, he yelled, deployed bear spray as the sow charged him from about 25 feet, and rolled into a ball to play dead. The bear repeatedly chewed and jumped on him as he tried to protect his head." "He did everything he was supposed to do," said Madison County Sheriff Roger Thompson.

    Playing dead once you are already attacked is the best way to survive, if its a territorial grizzly.

"Out of nowhere, the bear attacked him again and did the same thing to him," "She just seemed to lose interest because he was playing dead," said Thompson. "Then she just wandered off. Bears can be that way when they have their babies with them."


     Now then there is another percentage, a small percentage of bears that are just not right. Their bear behavior do not follow the natural bear behavior, now if you meet that bear you can do everything completely right and still might not get out alive. You can also run into that bear as a large group of people and the bear will still come at you, which is rare. A group of people being attacked by a bear is far less common than a single person. They say, if you are being attacked by a predatory black bear you need to fight, fight for your life.

"Despite Kitchen's bravery, McConnell was mauled to death in front of the eyes of her 13-year-old son, Kelly, who was also attacked while bravely trying to save his mother. Witnesses say the bear turned on Kitchen, attacking him and killing him while witnesses tried in vain to save him. According to a police report, a kick made the bear withdraw into the bush. It then came upon four university students who turned and ran. A 20-year-old Calgary student slipped and was attacked. Police said the bear was shot while in the midst of this attack."



Camping in Bear Country

    Am I scared when I camp in bear country? I wasn't at first, in Alaska, I don't know why, but I just wasn't. Now I am absolutely terrified for no good reason. Sure, there are situations where people have been attacked in their tent, but those situations are far rare compared to the people who are not. Yes, it can happen, but you can also get hit by a car while walking across the street. The best thing you can do is to be cautious. Keep your food (including tooth paste) in specific bear proof container. In some places (like in a forest) where there are trees you can also hang up your food items.


    Some people even like to change clothes, into clothes that have not been close to food. So you'll eat and cook food, and once that's done you change clothes and put those clothes away, farther away from the tent. Is this extreme? Yeah! Have I done it? Heck yeah!

Is this a Zoo?

    When we were driving from Alaska down to Montana, and then farther to Wisconsin we saw so many bears. All bears but two were spotted in Canadaland. Canada is so big, I mean so is the US, but Canada also has the Yukon and if you think Alaska is big, think bigger. We encountered these adorable bear cubs and their mama along the way in Canada, right by the road. These were the first of many many bears we saw along the road, but the only grizzlies until we left Yellowstone out in Wyoming. 


Mama bear of course were keeping an eye out on these little rascals. 


What is your opinion/experience with bears?