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  • Writer's picturebalzaccom


It never ends. A hot topic on the news and on some of the backpacking discussion boards these days is the interaction between humans and bears. It seems that a lot of people are concerned about running into a bear in the woods...and they seem to base most of their concerns on the recent news stories about bears invading homes, cabins, and the like. So we thought we'd clarify a few things.

1. Wild bears in the woods seem to avoid people with astonishing ease. Over the past three years we've hiked over 500 miles in the Sierra, and seen exactly two bears on the trail. Both immediately moved in the opposite direction when they saw people. And in talking and writing with loads of other backpackers, we hear that same story over and over again. Truly wild bears avoid people.

2. Tame bears are a different story. And this is where it gets interesting...and sad. Because bears that live near people, either in campgrounds or inhabited areas like ski resorts, quickly learn that people have a lot of food. And like most wild animals, easy food is a big attraction. So bears that live near campgrounds or resorts quickly learn to leave the wild food alone, and base their diet on human food. Which is a huge problem. That food is much higher in calories, and so the bears grow bigger, have more cubs, and generally become a much different animal---including one that is not so afraid of humans. And then it gets ugly. Cabins get invaded, bears get shot, and everybody loses. Especially the bears.

3. Some things seem to work to limit the damage. Bear boxes--big sturdy steel ones--protect the bears by making human food inaccessible. And since they have been installed in campgrounds and parks, bear issues have really gone way down. That's a good thing. But how do you to that to a house or cabin? Do we need to enact new building codes that insist on steel doors on all cabins in the woods? That seems excessive, but there doesn't seem to be any easy answer. And nothing seems to protect bears from really stupid people who leave food outside the boxes.

4. We do have one easy answer. If you want to avoid problems with bears in the woods, avoid people. Go where there are few people, and you will find no problems with bears. And there are other benefits as well--like the fishing is better, and the sunsets are quieter...and well, you get the idea.

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