Relatives and friends overseas seem fascinated by our wild critters in this part of the world and especially tales of our encounters with Ursus Americanus or American Black Bear. Over the years of living in British Columbia there have been a few bear encounters, with some more memorable than others. Growing up in Australia I was not familiar with such large and potentially dangerous wildlife in the forests and my first bear experience was terrifying beyond belief and yes, the bear really was outside my window - in our front yard.
An Isolated Cabin - not bear proof
It was a few years ago in the Fall when we were living in a tiny cabin on a small acreage at the end of a logging road in a semi isolated, forested area outside Prince George, B.C. I was home alone with our baby who was about two years of age when, and who was fortunately sleeping. It was middle of the day and I just happened to look out the front window of our cabin and see an extremely large black bear slowly walk up our gravel driveway towards the house. My husband was out-of-town for a few days; we were new to the area and I knew only one person by name - our neighbours 5 miles down the road so I phoned hoping they were home and could come to my rescue. After explaining my predicament, the neighbour's wife said she would get her husband to call me from work. All this time the curious bear was walking closer to the house and by the time her husband called back, it was only a few yards from the front porch.
I was so frightened by this time as I knew the front door and windows would be no effort for this bear to walk right in if he wanted to. My neighbour asked if I could shoot. No! But there were guns in the house. Quickly, I put down the phone - found the guns and ammunition and all the while looking out the window watching the bear coming closer. The bear must have caught a smell of the garbage locked in an outside garage (with my car) and veered off in that direction from the front steps and porch.
With the bear now out of sight - I was concerned about it coming into the cottage through the equally flimsy back door - so hastily began my beginners firearms lesson - over the telephone. The first problem was my hands were shaking so much I could not load the bullets into the magazine. Eventually, I managed to load the rifle and the neighbour kept talking to me, about what I needed to do in an emergency. I really did not wish to shoot a wild animal or possibly wound it but I kept thinking of my child, sleeping in the other room, and knew I had to be able to defend ourselves as best I could. This enabled me to calm down and concentrate on what I might have to do. I waited and watched with a loaded rifle but no bear emerged.
The neighbours arrived (with guns in hand) and searched the outbuildings but there was no sign of the bear. The experience was so distressing for me and I am so grateful that our child slept through the entire encounter which seemed an eternity long but perhaps took only half an hour. When our daughter awoke and saw all the people and fuss - I just said "Oh, there was a bear outside our window".
Over the following years there have been several other very close calls with black bears, but fortunately not with a Grizzly nor a cougar, for which I am extremely grateful. Whether you are walking through the forest or sitting in your suburban back yard, remember British Columbia is "bear country".
Things I have learned about bears firsthand
- If fishing, bears, who have an extremely keen sense of smell, will search for entrails washed ashore on a lake
- If a bear is disturbed and runs away this is a good thing
- If a bear sees and approaches you, they may have no fear of humans or there could be cubs in the area. A potentially life threatening occurrence
- Bears look cute and cuddly but people have been mauled or killed trying to take their photos (Denali)
- Care and observation is required when in their habitat including what you wear, where you store your food
- Small dogs seem to annoy bears but they usually retreat from larger dogs
- If walking in the bush and see a bear cub - leave the area immediately. Usually the sow will be very close at hand
- Bears love compost and bird seed in feeders
- Shortly after this bear encounter, I enrolled in the CORE program and not only learned to handle firearms but obtained a hunting license
- I also obtained a firearm license to carry my new rifle which was locked in the trunk of my car when driving on isolated back roads if the car broke down and we had to walk in the bush. These licenses are issued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
- I have tremendous respect for bears and learned all I could about their habits and habitat but often a bear will act totally contrary to what wildlife officers say - but that's another story
Links & References
- There are American Black Bear sub species such as the Cinnamon or Kermode (the spirit bear)
- Ursus arctos horribilis - the Grizzly bear - is another species
- Number of black bears in B.C. estimated at 120,000 to 160,00 and is about one-quarter of all the black bears in Canada
- Statistics on bear and human conflicts
- There have been 13 fatal bear attacks since 1967 in British Columbia
- This site helps locating bears, cougars, in city areas by sightings and encounters. For example, there was a bear on our street in the last week and another put down by wildlife officers the preceding week
- B.C. Environment guide to bear safety at your home
- Black bear population growing in North America - IUCN
- Caramel and Parsley article on what you should know about bears