JACKSON, Wyo. — Summer in the Tetons brings an abundance of active wildlife, including black and grizzly bears, in and around Grand Teton National Park.
The grizzly bear population has been on the rise in the area, causing the animals to expand their range beyond their historical habitats. “All of Teton County is now in occupied grizzly bear habitat,” said Grand Teton National Park in April.
For visitors and residents alike, here are a few tips to avoid encounters.
GTNP requires all visitors to stay a minimum distance of at least 100 yards, 300 feet, from bears and wolves and 25 yards, 75 feet, from all other wildlife.
The park suggests hikers stay in groups and avoid hiking early in the morning, late in the day, or after dark. Grizzlies and black bears often use hiking trails within the park to travel and feed. Hikers are urged to make noise, bears will usually move out of the way if they hear noise approaching.
According to a report from Wyofile last summer, research from the Washington State University Bear Research, Education and Conservation Center shows that grizzly bears prefer, when possible, the path of least resistance. The same can be said of human bodies, which is why bears often use trails built for people.
On park roads and all roads in Teton County follow the speed limit and look out for wildlife on the sides of the roads, especially at dusk and dawn. Bears may be feeding near roads on berry bushes or road killed carcasses.
For visitors and residents alike, storing attractants can mean life or death for a black or grizzly bear.
According to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, data and experience have demonstrated that bears who have learned to associate people with a food source often repeat the behavior. Young bears have a higher potential to become increasingly emboldened in seeking out foods in and around human development, especially if they have learned to acquire food there in the past. When this food-conditioned behavior occurs, management options for bear and human safety become limited.
For those living in Teton County, come July 1, new land development regulations aimed at protecting wildlife from becoming habituated to food rewards in residential areas go into effect county-wide, including the requirement of bear-proof trash cans.
When camping, keep all odorous items in bear-resistant food lockers or in a hard-sided vehicle with doors locked and windows closed, day and night. Items include food, drinks, garbage, toiletries, clean and dirty cookware, stoves, grills, coolers, empty or full food containers and pet food and bowls.
Carry bear spray
The National Park Service recommends that park visitors carry bear spray in all areas of Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. “Bear spray has proven to be an effective, non-lethal, bear deterrent capable of stopping aggressive behavior in bears,” the park service says. Bear spray should be used as a last resort, on aggressive or charging bears.
To use bear spray:
- Remove safety clip and hold cannister with both hands.
- Point nozel towards bear, aiming at the bears feet.
- Wait until the bear is about 30ft away then hold down the trigger for 1-2 seconds. The spray will leave the cannister in a cloud.
- Continue spraying if the bear continues to charge.
- After using bear spray, leave the area. Do not run.
This might go without saying but, bear spray is not a repellant. Do not spray people, tents or backpacks.
What to do in a bear encounter
Encountering a bear does not mean the bear is aggressive or going to attack.
Grand Teton National Park offers these tips to manage an bear encounter:
- Do not run. Bears can easily out run any human. Running may elicit attacks from non-aggressive bears.
- If the bear is unaware of you, detour quickly and quietly.
- If the bear is aware but has not acted aggressively, back slowly away while talking in an even tone or not at all.
- Use your peripheral vision. Bears may interpret direct eye contact as threatening.
- Do not drop your pack – this teaches bears how to obtain human food. Your pack can also protect your body in the case of an attack.
- Do not climb trees – all black bears and some grizzly bears can also climb trees
According to the park, the vast majority of bear attacks have occurred when people surprised a bear. In this situation the bear may attack as a defensive maneuver. The bear may be protecting young or defending a carcass.
Swaying their heads, clacking their teeth, lowering their head and laying back their ears are all signs of aggression.
If a bear charges:
- Do not run. Some bears will bluff their way out of a threatening situation by charging, then veering off or stopping suddenly.
- Bear experts generally recommend standing still until the bear stops and then slowly back away.
- If you have bear spray this is the time to use it!
- If the bear makes contact with you, drop to the ground and lie flat on your stomach with your legs spread apart slightly and play dead. Cover the back of your neck with your hands. Keep your pack on to protect your back. Do not move until you are certain the bear has left.