The best bear encounter is the one avoided.
Thus stated Bree Lillies of WildSafe BC at the beginning of her information session on how to use bear spray. Despite the dreary weather on June 23, the skies briefly cleared, offering Lillies and the half a dozen people at Rotary Park a chance to take part in the hour-long session. This was the first time WildSafe BC hosted like this, and given how many hikers, bikers, and joggers there are in Nakusp, the information is worth knowing.
“I wanted to reach out to the local hiking and biking groups,” said Lillies. “I heard lots of people talking about bear spray, and now I have this information that I can share.”
When purchasing bear spray it would be smart to also purchase a holster to keep it in and a foam filled container made specifically for storing the spray when it’s kept in the car.
Two things to look for when purchasing a can is the expiry date and dents. A can of bear spray expires after two years, so check often. Because the spray is in an aerosol can, never purchase one that has any dents in it. Most cans contain enough spray for a six second burst.
Lillies outlined some steps to take in order to avoid an encounter with a bear. This included watching for bear signs, like turned over logs, scratch marks on the ground or on trees, and scat (bear droppings).
If a bear is spotted, back away from the area slowly, and use a low voice. Chances are you have seen it, but it probably hasn’t seen you.
Bear spray should only be used as a last resort, and if the bear is charging at you. There are three stages to using bear spray properly.
Stage one: If bear sign is spotted, be on high alert, and check that the bear spray is within reach to use. This is where having the hip holster comes in handy. Reach for the spray and make sure it’s ready to use.
Stage two: Remove the spray from the holster, but keep the safety on.
Stage three: Remove the safety pin and spray in a one to two second burst starting at eye level, and moving down.
Along with watching Lillies demonstrate how to use bear spray, attendants had the opportunity to try it themselves, using inert spray.
Residents left the session feeling happy to have had the chance to attend, one of whom was Bianca Neidhardt. Neidhardt is an avid hiker, and usually goes on 10-15 hikes in a season. Once, on a group hike, she encountered a bear.
“We were on top of the mountain, and were all getting our lunch out,” she said. “We heard some rumbling and the bear came up over the edge to see us. We got our bear spray out and were talking loudly to make it aware, and then it turned around and went the other way.”
While she carries bear spray on her every time she goes for a hike, she’s never had to use it.
This was the first time Lillies has hosted this event, but it won’t be the last. She will be at various markets over the summer providing general information on reducing conflicts with wildlife within the community.
For more information on how to avoid conflict with bears, visit www.wildsafebc.com.