Kids and Bear Safety
It’s spring time, and bears are out and about here on the North Shore! The sightings happen every year also in neighbourhoods and on popular kid-friendly trails, so read on even if you don’t intend to venture deep into the backcountry.
We had the pleasure of talking to Luci Cadman from North Shore Black Bear Society who helped us answer a few questions regarding bear safety when out on an adventure with the kids. We can all probably use a reminder of how to act when you see a bear, how to handle a potential interaction, and what to teach our kids.
What is The North Shore Black Bear Society?
The North Shore Black Bear Society (NSBBS) is a local non-profit organization working across all 3 municipalities. The Society responds to reports of bear activity, welcomes all new homeowners to bear country, presents workshops to a wide variety of groups, canvasses neighbourhoods with education, places bear-in-area signage, has interactive and educational displays at community events and maintains a website and social media.
The North Shore Black Bear Society supports the coexistence of people and bears through education.
How many different types of bears are in this area?
The North Shore is home to the smallest and most common bear found across North America, the North American Black Bear. The North Shore's dense, vast forests are the perfect home for these agile climbers, who evolved in forested areas and seek safety in the tree canopy.
How frequent are bear interactions, and how many bears roughly are there around the North Shore?
Bear sightings on the North Shore are common, encounters are less frequent. Bears aim to avoid close encounters with humans, but with so many people living and exploring in areas where bears live, we are seeing an increase in sightings and encounters. In addition, more people are aware of the NSBBS as a resource for bear behaviour and many residents reach out in an effort to support coexistence in their community.
Currently, it is estimated that there are 120,000 - 160,000 black bears in British Columbia. As there is no research dedicated to black bear numbers in BC or the North Shore, we have no idea how many bears live across North and West Vancouver.
In 2020, we identified 27 individuals sighted in communities and forested areas on the periphery of residential areas. Remote areas and watersheds, where fewer people are active, is excellent habitat for bears and we expect there to be more living in those areas.
Some people choose not to report bear activity. Why we encourage anyone who sees a black bear on the North Shore to share their sighting with us is so we can collect valuable data and have a better understanding of our local bear community.
What are some “high traffic” bear spots to avoid?
From sea to sky and across all 3 municipalities, bears travel and live across the North Shore. With the exception of central and lower Lonsdale, you could see a bear anywhere, from the beach in Deep Cove to the trails on Cypress Mountain. Our Regional and Provincial Parks are areas where bears typically live, always expect to see them there, even on a busy day. Understanding seasonal habits, such as bears fishing for salmon in the fall, will help us to avoid areas where we expect them to be.
What signs of bears to be on the lookout for: what does bear poo look like?
Bears often leave clues as they travel through an area. Bear scat is one of the most obvious clues, especially when bears go to the bathroom on the trail. Bear scat will reveal if the bear is an adult or cub, what the bear was eating and gives us an estimate as to how long ago the bear was in the area. Fresh scat is shiny and warm (if you hover your hand over the top) and the colour can vary.
You will also notice bear claw marks on trees, especially cedars. Look for big tracks with 5 toes and 5 claw marks in muddy spots. Shredded logs are where bears find bugs, another favourite food.
This is a photo of bear scat I found on Cypress Mountain last spring. During the spring bears spend much of their time grazing fresh spring greens. This scat is full of grass and clover.
What type of local plants do bears eat?
Black bears are omnivores and 80% or more of their diet is vegetation. In early spring, bears enjoy digging up the roots of skunk cabbage. They graze on grasses, sedges, horsetails and dandelions. Berries are vital to bears and our forests provide them with salmonberries, red and black huckleberries, oval leaf blueberries, mountain ash, salal and more. Bears love fruit, pacific crabapples, wild cherries, and backyard fruit trees.
How to reduce your chances of coming face-to-face with a bear? Sing/clap/talk?
The best tool you have at avoiding a close encounter with a bear is your voice. Bears know our voices; your bear bell is too quiet and does not identify you as human. Talk or sing as you move through areas where bears live. Be louder and slower in low visibility areas and when travelling close to water. If you’re running or biking, you need to call out often and be louder. Using your voice provides bears and other wildlife an opportunity to avoid you and, in most cases, you do not even know they are there. Traveling in groups or with children creates more noise and further reduces your chances of meeting a bear.
Be aware of your surroundings and avoid wearing headphones. Listen for other wildlife, cawing crows and ravens often signal bigger wildlife is in the area. Look for clues bears leave (scat, tracks, freshly marked trees, shredded logs) and natural bear foods.
Is it safe to enjoy a snack in the woods? Are there things we should avoid bringing on a hike or snacks that are less attractive to wildlife?
Absolutely, we should be prepared with snacks. It is exceptionally rare for a bear to approach people for food, but they will seek opportunities if any food is left unattended, even for a few minutes. Highly odorous food such as fish could be more enticing to bears, but sometimes even a single candy bar in an unattended backpack gets their attention. Make sure that food and packs are always within reach. Be sure to take all garbage and food scraps home with you.
What is the first thing you should do if you see a bear? What if you are with small kids who may not be directly next to you? What should you start teaching your own kids about what to do if they spot a bear?
Occasionally, even if we make noise, we can encounter a bear. Be present and aware of your surroundings. By nature, bears are calm animals. If you meet one: stay calm, talk to the bear in a calm voice (any language) and slowly back away.
During an encounter you would also prepare your bear spray. In most cases, as soon as you use your voice the bear leaves.
By using a calm tone and slowly distancing yourself, you communicate to the bear that you are not a danger to them. Black bears aim to avoid making physical contact with anything that could harm them, including us.
Keeping dogs on leash will greatly reduce your chances of an encounter with a bear. Off-leash dogs pressure defensive behaviour from bears and can bring a bear back to you. More than half of all negative wildlife encounters involve off-leash dogs.
Do not expect bears to run away from you or your dog. Bears are not fearful, and most are comfortable with people – at a distance. Similar to us, the level of personal space is different for every bear and we should never intentionally approach them. Entering their space for a photograph puts pressure on bears, which often ends badly (for the bear).
A bear may stand when they see you, this is a curious posture. Bears trust their nose. Lifting their head from the ground allows them to get a better sense of their surroundings and sniff out a safe exit.
Female black bears with cubs are especially timid. These vulnerable bears choose to live closer to areas occupied by people to stay safe from dominant male bears, who typically live in areas further away from humans. Black bear moms keep their cubs safe by sending them into a tree and retreating. If you meet a mom and cubs, remember to communicate that you are not a danger by being calm, using a soft, calm tone and slowly giving her family space.
We encourage you to practice with your little ones. Pretend you are in the forest and ask your children what they would want to say to a bear if they met one. Remind your families that bears are a part of our wider community and it is normal to see them, even in the neighbourhood. Their intentions are not to hurt people, but they are not our pets. We show bears respect by giving them lots of personal space and by not tempting them to our home with food.
What bear safety equipment should you bring with you when hiking: e.g bear bells, bear spray, bear bangers? On what types of hikes do you recommend to bring all that - only those leading into backcountry? (What is backcountry?) Given that all this bear safety equipment needs to be very readily available, how safe is it to have around young kids?
We advise carrying bear spray above all other equipment (bear bells are too quiet and do not identify you as human, bear bangers are too aggressive and easily misused). We recommend carrying bear spray when you’re travelling and camping in areas where bears live, year-round.
Bear spray (also known as wildlife spray) is a non-lethal tool that teaches wildlife not to enter our personal space and it could save your life. In the rare event of a close encounter where the bear does not leave, deploying wildlife spray sets boundaries, and in exceptionally rare encounters, could save your life. Wildlife spray is only to be deployed if you are in immediate danger and must be used responsibly.
Wildlife spray should be immediately accessible and not inside your pack. Bear spray does have a safety clip and should be stored and transported in a wildlife spray container. Invite your families to learn about wildlife spray and teach them that it is not a toy (it cannot be touched).
How can we make the forest safer for bears?
We love that you want to help our human impact on bears. Using your voice to give bears an opportunity to avoid us, staying on the trail so as not to damage sensitive habitat, keeping dogs on leash to avoid stressing bears, giving them space and never approaching them for photos and taking all your food and garbage home with you are some of the easiest ways we can make the forest safer for bears!