Ask the Expert: Bear Safety Advice from Lynn Dickerson

07 23 2015

Shoshone National Forest is like many other forests: It has scenic mountains, campsites, plenty of trees - and, bears. SABRE had the opportunity to interview Lynn Dickerson, a representative from Shoshone National Forest to get her advice on bear safety.

SABRE: Can you describe your role and any additional background you have that qualifies you as an authority on bear safety? Which organization do you work for and how long have you worked there?
LD: I have been providing grizzly bear education in the Yellowstone Ecosystem for over ten years working for the state Fish and Game department and the Forest Service. I also live and recreate in bear habitat.

SABRE: What’s the #1 thing people need to know about bear safety?
LD: Arming your brain with knowledge before heading into bear habitat is the best thing you can do to prevent a bear encounter. Know how you’re going to handle a situation should it arise. Stephen Herrero’s book, Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance is a good resource for this.

SABRE: What do you think is the biggest misconception/myth about bears?
LD: Most bears are not seeking an encounter with a human and will try to avoid a human if given the opportunity. Therefore, the key is to be courteous and to let the bear know you are coming.

SABRE: Have you ever encountered a bear?
LD: Yes. While living in Alaska, I surprised a black bear while out for a walk with my dog. We were walking down a road at the time.

SABRE: What did you learn from this experience?
LD: Even though I had bear spray, surprising a bear only 25 feet from you will probably not give you the time needed to use it. It will take you (and the bear) a few seconds to react to the situation. Thank goodness this bear reacted like most and decided to flee! (It is always good to have a tool such as bear spray easily accessible just in case the bear decided to charge.)

SABRE: What is the biggest factor leading to aggressive/defensive bear behavior?
LD: Not allowing the bear to know you’re in the area so that it can avoid you. If a bear can hear, see or smell you – they will almost always leave the area before you ever know they were there. You would be amazed how many times a bear was actually in the area and we never knew it!

SABRE: Why is it important to report bear encounters/attacks to park officials?
LD: Agencies are always trying to be proactive instead of reactive. Reporting helps us get an idea of a certain bear, or a situation in a campground or on a trail that might be a danger for visitors.

SABRE: What can we, as campers, hikers or explorers, do to protect and respect bears’ environments?
LD: Keep a clean camp and never allow a bear to access human food - this includes pet food. Make yourself known while in bear habitat. Hike in groups of 3 or more when possible. Never approach a bear. Never run from a bear. Take bear spray and KNOW HOW TO USE IT – that also means practice drawing it from the holster and removing the safety cap! Bear spray works! It reduces the aggressive behavior in a bear so that when used properly, both you AND the bear escape with nothing more than a great story!

Lynn Dickerson
Environmental Education
US Forest Service
Shoshone National Forest Service
Cody, Wyoming