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The Bear Facts About Grizzlies

Here's what to do if you come upon a bear sitting in the woods

You never know where you'll run into one. There are three different kinds of bears roaming the polar regions and North America. Polar bears weigh an average of 1,500 pounds, are excellent swimmers, and eat mostly seals. Concentrations of grizzlies exist in Alaska, Yellowstone National Park, and Glacier National Park. The largest ones, 1,600 pounds and up, live along the Alaskan coast, where they feast on salmon. Black bears, which weigh around 300 pounds, are commonly found in the Alaskan interior as well as elsewhere in the United States.

Grizzlies, especially, don't like to be surprised. Experienced hikers in grizzly country constantly ring bells, sing songs, and generally make as much noise as possible. Black bears are somewhat less dangerous.

"I always tell people if they run into a bear on the trail not to worry too much," says David Graber of the National Biological Service. "Most likely the bear will meander away."

Here's some more specific advice from a Denali National Park publication:

Never run: Bears can run more than 30 mph--faster than an Olympic sprinter. Running can elicit a chase response from otherwise non-aggressive bears.

An unaware bear: If the bear is unaware of you, move quickly and quietly away from it. Give the bear plenty of room, allowing it to continue its own activities undisturbed.

An aware bear: If the bear is aware of you, but has not acted aggressively, back away slowly, talking in a calm, firm voice while slowly waving your arms. Bears that stand up on their hind legs are usually trying to identify you and are not threatening.

An approaching bear: Do not run; do not drop your pack. A pack can help protect your body in case of an attack. To drop your pack may encourage the bear to approach people for food. Bears occasionally make "bluff charges," sometimes coming to within 10 feet of a person before stopping or veering off. Stand still until the bear stops and has moved away, then slowly back off. Climbing trees will not protect you.

If a bear touches you: If a brown bear does actually make contact with you, curl up in a ball, protecting your stomach and neck, and play dead. If the attack is prolonged, however, change tactics and fight back vigorously. If it is a black bear, do not play dead at all; fight back.

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Updated on April 10, 1996