It was a narrow path, but not one unfamiliar to Tony Webb.
He had walked this way many times during his regular evening treks on neighbourhood trails in North Vancouver, but this time he had a visitor: a big black bear was strolling toward him. Webb immediately stopped walking.
"In most cases the bear will stop, look at you, and turn away," he says.
In this case, the bear kept walking toward him.
Webb was tempted to step to the side of the path to let the bear pass, but because he didn't have his bear spray with him, he knew it wasn't a recommended course of action.
If the bear was passing after he stepped aside but suddenly became interested in him as it got close, Webb wouldn't have any real defence against it without the spray. If a bear smells that you have something in your pocket, like food, it might want to explore that, notes Webb. There was only one thing left to do: human dominate the bear.
"And that is you put your hands right up in a 'V,' take one step forward and shout in your best regimental sergeant major's voice: 'Bear, bear, get out of my den!'" explains Webb. In this case, the bear stopped advancing and ran away.
Webb is the chairman of the North Shore Black Bear Network, and says bears don't worry him because he is familiar with their behaviour.
"There's so much fear about bears. Bears are a misunderstood and persecuted creature," he says.
The North Shore Black Bear Network has been active for more than 12 years, and Webb says it seems attitudes toward bears are changing. When it first started, the network would receive calls on its bear hotline from residents who sounded panicked because there was a bear in their backyard. Now if they get a call, it's usually a calm voice reporting a bear in a yard and requesting the network put up some neighbourhood signs about it.
"Big difference and big breakthrough," says Webb. "Change is slowly coming about but it has taken us over a decade."
Bears on the North Shore are pretty savvy about people, he says, but like all bears, they don't like surprises. Trail users should make an effort to make noise as they move through bear territory. Bear bells are not a bad idea because they let the bears know there's someone around, says Webb. "You're better to have bear bells than to surprise the bear with your presence right in front of it."
He adds: "If you're using the wilderness, you have a responsibility to yourself and the wildlife to try to understand it a bit."
The following are some basic bear safety tips.
- Make lots of noise as you move through trail areas. Watch for bear signs, such as droppings, rotten trees torn apart or overturned rocks. If you see a bear far away, just let it continue on its way. If it's close to you on a trail, stop and let the bear know you're there.
- Do not run. Running will signal to the bear that you are probably good prey to chase. Bears are very fast. You likely cannot outrun a bear. Do not glare at the bear. Look in its general direction, but off to one side. Bears can read your body language. "Don't raise the level of hostilities," says Webb.
- If a bear does not stop walking toward you, it's time to try the human dominance technique. If a bear attacks, the recommended response depends on if you're dealing with a black bear or a grizzly bear. For more information visit the B.C. Parks website or the North Shore Black Bear Network site.