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Quick-thinking Squamish brothers shoo off bear by becoming human tower

11-year-old Matthew Lowenberger put his little brother on his shoulders to appear bigger after a mother bear and cub appeared just ahead of them on a trail. 

These quick-thinking Squamish boys are smarter than the average bear, so to speak. 

Last week, Matthew and Alex Lowenberger were walking home along a trail from their elementary school when they encountered a mother bear and her cub. 

Matthew, 11, knew that making yourself look bigger is a way to scare off a bear, so once he got his bearings, he moved into action — protecting his little brother in the process. 

"I was walking and talking with my little brother. And we were both looking down because we didn't want to trip ... because there's a whole ton of rocks. And then we looked up and there's a bear," recalled Matthew.

"I looked around the place, and then I picked up my little brother. I put him on my shoulders, like up here. And then he put his hands up."

Atop Matthew, who was walking backwards, Alex waved his arms around. 

The sow and her cub ran off into the bushes. 

The boys crossed to the farther side of the path home and kept walking, being alert for the bears’ return. 

"I was watching, and my little brother was on the side of me," Matthew said. 

They thought the bears were gone but then heard a growling sound from the bushes. 

The boys' mom, Mel Krug, said she was so proud of her sons for how they acted. 

"I'm so proud of [Matthew] in the fact that he protected his brother with smart thinking," she said, adding that it is scary for parents to think about how their kids will be without them in such situations. This was an example of how the boys did the right thing taking care of each other. 

Bears are active now

Adrian Nelson, wildlife field manager with Humane Solutions told The Squamish Chief that typically black bears want to avoid contact with humans and will take every opportunity to steer clear, but where there becomes a concern is when a mom and cub are involved. 

"She can be a lot more protective, and the baby bears may not know which way to go. So, she may take some extra chances to try to protect those cubs," he said. 

"She just wants to get away and get her cubs to safety, so if she's given the opportunity, she will do that."

He said the boys did the right thing. 

"What the kids did was right. It was great that they made themselves large ... and gave mom and cub the opportunity to get away from them. So [they] definitely should be commended."

Because putting someone on your shoulders makes you unstable and increases the chance of a fall, he suggested avoiding it if possible. Instead, hold up backpacks, umbrellas or coats to look bigger.

Making noise while on the trails and near rivers is essential, especially this time of year, as they try to pack on the pounds for the winter. 

Near rivers, for example, bears may not hear you coming, so make sure your presence is known, he said. 

Right now, the berries are all gone, but the salmon have yet to arrive in force, so it is a tough time for them, he added. 

The unusually dry October isn't helping the situation, with salmon runs late this year as there isn't as much water in the river systems. 

"All of that's going to play into a lack of food for bears. They're still going to be triggered by the onset of the cold weather to hibernate. The question is whether or not they're going to be able to pack on enough pounds in order to survive through that winter. That will obviously lead them to be a little bit more desperate should we start getting closer to that cold weather and those food sources aren't there," he said. 

They are taking what they can get, where they can get it, so the risk of conflict over attractants has increased. 

Therefore, it is even more vital for locals to clear off fruit trees, pack away bird feeders and lock away garbage cans. 

Find more advice for keeping safe in bear country at the BC Parks website.