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Black bears emerge from hibernation

Staff writers
April 8, 2013 — Spring has sprung and with temperatures on the rise, officials offer tips on what to expect when it comes to black bears at this time of year.

Not uncommon for bears to enter people's backyards especially if food is readily available
Not uncommon for bears to enter people's backyards especially if food is readily available

As black bears begin to emerge from hibernation, officials say it's important to know how to avoid potentially dangerous encounters.

"Whatever you do, don't run," says Dale Gienow, owner of the Muskoka Wildlife Centre in Gravenhurst, Ontario. "Contrary to popular belief, bears are very fast. A black bear can run faster than a racehorse over a short period of time," Gienow explains.

Experts suggest making a lot of noise when walking down hiking trails to warn the animals of your approach. It's also a good idea to keep a bear spray on hand. 

Bears are also starting to creep into populated areas, including backyards, where they're searching for new sources of food.

Black bears are starting to roam as temperatures rise
Black bears are starting to roam as temperatures rise

"They’re coming out of hibernation, they start eating slowly, they’ll be grazing on grass and clover, they’ll be getting their digestive system back in functioning order, and then they’ll start looking for food," says Christine Miller of the North Shore Black Bear Society in BC. "And if the food is near people’s houses and there’s garbage or bird feeders that are accessible they’ll come right on in and help themselves."

Miller recommends packaging odorous foods in a container and freezing it until the morning of garbage collection to help keep your yard bear free. 

Here are some helpful tips to avoid home bear encounters:

  • Wash your garbage can with a solution of vinegar and water and store it in the garage.
  • Don't keep pet food outside and feed your pets inside. 
  • Keep barbeques odor free by burning them on high for 10 minutes, scrubbing them and storing them in a secure shed or garage if possible. 
  • If you have fruit trees, keep the ground underneath clear of fruit. 
  • As fruit ripens, pick it promptly. 
  • Cover compost with at least 30 cm of soil.

Other things to keep in mind about bears:

  • Bears have excellent eyesight, good hearing and a great sense of smell. 
  • Black bears are agile tree-climbers; mature grizzlies are poor climbers, but can reach up to four metres. 
  • When bears are standing up, they are usually trying to identify you. 
  • Talk slowly so it knows who you are, move away and keep the bear in view at all times. 
  • Do not make direct eye contact with a bear. 
  • Do not run unless you're very close to a secure place. 
  • Consider dropping your pack to distract it.

Serious bear attacks are relatively rare. Statistics suggest there is only one per year in North America.

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