Bear Etiquette

Well, etiquette might not be quite the right word, for it conjures an image of bears at a party, politely toasting each other’s health. The phrase “bear etiquette” actually refers to how humans behave—or should behave—when confronting a bear.  Because there have been some bear sightings at Sunnyside, perhaps this is a good time to review what you should (and should not) do if you’re out early one morning and a bear crosses your path.

Even before that happens, it might be good to remind ourselves that we shouldn’t entice bears by putting out food sources, especially in the warm summer months.  Bird seed for a bear is like potato chips or M & M’s for us—a delicious snack.  Sunnyside residents have been asked to take down bird feeders until late in autumn. 

What should you do if you come across a bear?  First, try to maintain some distance.  Rangers at Shenandoah National Park recommend staying at least 50 yards from a bear for safe viewing.  Second, and perhaps most difficult, remain calm.  (This could be challenging if a bear tries to lessen the 50-yard distance.)  Third, make the bear aware of your presence by talking to it in an assertive voice, singing, or clapping your hands.  (Rangers do not suggest what songs might be most appropriate for the bear serenade.)  Fourth, make sure the bear has an escape route.  Fifth, avoid direct eye contact and do not try to run from a bear.  Instead, back away slowly.  (You might recall the joke about two campers who encounter a bear in the wild.  One starts lacing up his running shoes, and the other says, “Why bother to do that?  We can’t outrun a bear.”  The first camper responds, “I don’t have to outrun the bear.  I just have to outrun you.”)

Other recommendations from the park ranger include scaring the bear by making loud noises (e.g., by yelling or banging pots and pans together).  You should try to make yourself look as big as possible by raising your arms.  If you hear a bear make some “huffing” sounds or make popping sounds by snapping its jaws—or if it starts to paw the ground—these are warning signs that you’re too close.  Slowly back away, avoid eye contact, and do not run.  If the bear does not leave, it’s best to seek a secure area at least 200 yards away.  Again, the important things to keep in mind are:  1) avoid direct eye contact, 2) slowly back away, and 3) do not run.  Try to give the bear space.

On the good side, black bears are relatively shy and black bear attacks are quite rare.  Bears will usually feel threatened only when you seem to be invading their personal space.

While bears are thrilling to see, it’s best to do this from a safe distance!

--John Noffsinger