When outdoors, stay alert and ‘Bear Aware’

A brown bear stands on all fours in shallow water near a rocky beach.
Viewing a bear out in their natural habitat is on many recreationists’ bucket list. Knowing some basic guidelines to remain ‘bear aware’ may help lessen the threat of danger and help keep you and Alaska wildlife safe. Photo by M. Wilson (BLM)

As the weather warms up, public lands in Alaska see an uptick in use not only from human visitors looking to recreate, but increased wildlife activity – especially bears. Some bears in Alaska are apex predators, meaning they are at the top of their food chain and are a vital part of natural ecosystems. Bears adapt to their environments and often learn from their experience making each bear encounter unique. The Bureau of Land Management Alaska staff want to remind recreators to remain ‘bear aware’ and recreate responsibly. Preparation, awareness and proper steps can make all the difference when recreating in Alaska, especially during times of high bear activity. 

Alaska is the only state that is the natural home to all three bear species (polar, brown and black) in North America. Seeing a bear in its natural habitat may be on one’s bucket list but it’s important to remember that bears are wild and can be dangerous. This makes recreating responsibly and remaining bear aware extremely important when exploring the outdoors. 

Bears are inquisitive animals with extremely keen senses. Bears have a better sense of smell than dogs and can smell potential food over long distances. Bears are quick learners and will return to the areas they find food. The proper storing of food and disposal of your garbage can mean life or death to a bear…and to you. 

Following some basic ‘bear aware’ tips may help keep you and Alaska’s wildlife safe:  

  • Do not feed bears or other wildlife. 

  • Know Before You Go: When working or recreating in bear habitat- think about what you will do if you have a bear encounter before you go. 

  • Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. 

  • Read all signs at trailheads. 

  • Stay alert, do not wear headphones/ear buds and cautiously approach any blind corners on the trail. 

  • Carry bear spray that it is easily accessible. Know how to use it. 

  • Hike as a group, keep children with you and dogs leashed (or leave your dogs at home). 

  • Make plenty of noise. 

  • Never allow a bear to get your food or garbage when recreating or camping – don’t leave it unsecured. This also includes wrappers, bird feeders, dog food, compost, beehives and chicken coops at private residences. If a bear gets your food or garbage, it will likely come back. 

  • If you see a bear, maintain a safe distance and alter your route to avoid the bear. Never block a bear’s travel route. 

  • If you see a cub alone, don't approach. Mother bears are very defensive of their cubs. 

  • If you encounter a bear, stand your ground-back away slowly if the bear has stopped its approach or is unaware of you. Never run from a bear- it could result in the bear chasing you. 

It’s important to keep in mind that one does not have to be out in deep wilderness to have a bear encounter. Bears can be frequent sightings in Alaska, even in populated areas like downtown Anchorage. Advanced preparation, a responsible mindset and remaining bear aware can be the difference between an enjoyable trip recreating and a tense situation. 

Scott Claggett, Public Affairs Specialist

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