When Bare Meets Bear

With the claims of bear evidence on MSR property, it might be good to know some information about the bears found in our area.

Oregon is home to an estimated 25,000-30,000 black bears. They are the only type of bear found in the wild of Oregon. Despite their name, black bears are often brown in color. Oregon has seen just three attacks involving the animal since 2000, according to the Statesman Journal. As omnivores, black bears feed on a mix of berries, nuts, grasses, insects, fish and small mammals.

The first line of prevention is to never feed a bear, either intentionally or unintentionally, by being careless with your garbage or food scraps on your lot lease.

It’s normal to be frightened when you encounter a bear. The reality is that most encounters with bears rarely lead to aggressive behavior. Attacks are even rarer. Remember, most bears prefer to avoid contact with humans, and any bear you do see is probably just as frightened as you are!

If you encounter a bear, try to determine whether there are cubs present or if the bear is defending an animal carcass or other food source. Females with cubs or bears defending food sources may appear to act aggressively as they defend their cubs or food.

If you see a bear in the distance, respect its need for personal space. Do not approach it, even to get a photo, and give it as much room as possible. Consider turning around and leaving the way you came.

If you encounter a bear on the trail, stop what you are doing and evaluate the situation. Identify yourself by speaking in a calm, appeasing tone. Back away slowly, preferably in the direction you came. Keep your eye on the bear so you can see how it will react. In most cases, the bear will flee. Walk away, but never run, like children are inclined to do. Running from a bear will trigger a predatory instinct they all have. They may immediately lose all fear of you and look at you as a prey.

Ensure the bear has a clear and safe escape route with no people or obstacles in its way. If necessary, stand tall and look it directly in the eye. Yell at the bear and firmly tell it to leave: “Get out of here, bear!”

Sometimes a bear that feels threatened will ‘act’ aggressively to defend against a perceived threat as is often the case with a mother bear with cubs, a bear defending a food source, or a surprise encounter. The closer you are to the bear when it becomes aware of you, the more likely it is to react defensively. It may pop its jaws or swat the ground with its front paw while blowing and snorting, or it may lunge or “bluff charge” toward you in an attempt to get you to leave.

In this situation, the bear doesn’t want to fight any more than you do. It is simply trying to communicate that you are too close. Try to appear non-threatening by remaining still and calm. Speak in an appeasing voice and back away, increasing your distance from the bear, leaving the area immediately.

Occasionally, a bear will approach you in a non-defensive manner. It may just be curious. Perhaps it’s a young adult bear that is simply testing its dominance. Or they may be used to hanging around people in populated areas in order to access food. Very rarely, it may see you as potential prey.

In any event, talk to the bear in a firm voice. Get out of its way if you can, which may be all it wants. If the bear follows you and its attention is clearly directed at you, then stand your ground and prepare to use a deterrent, such as bear spray, a stick, a pole, or small rocks. A bear that is initially curious or testing you may become predatory if you do not stand up to it.

But if the encounter should escalate, act aggressively. Look it straight in the eyes and let it know you will fight if attacked. Shout! Make yourself look as big as possible. Stamp your feet and take a step or two toward the bear. Threaten the bear with whatever is handy (stick, pole, bear spray). The more the bear persists, the more aggressive your response should be.

If the bear attacks, use your deterrent and fight for your life. Kick, punch or hit the bear with whatever weapon is available. Concentrate your attack on the face, eyes and nose.

Note that defending yourself from a black bear is much different than an encounter with a brown bear or a grizzly, neither of which inhabit our state.

References and excerpts from:

Oregon Dept of Fish & Wildlife
Get Bear Smart Society
The Oregonian