Chugach Corner: Bear safety and awareness

A bear at the side of the Copper River Highway. (June 5, 2021) Photo courtesy of Amanda Williams

Spring is in full swing with summer rapidly approaching and brown and black bears have awakened from hibernation and are active. Having situational awareness is an important component to recreating in bear country. Understanding bear behavior, how to avoid an encounter, and how to properly respond if you encounter a bear is a key skill when enjoying the outdoors.

As Alaska’s human population increases, so does the frequency of bear-human interactions. Most bears are wary of humans and will avoid them. A bear’s behavior can be affected by its age, gender, species, time of year, and the bear’s perception of a threat. Keep in mind that bears want to avoid you as much as you want to avoid them. Most encounters between bears and humans are fairly benign and involve the bear and human just avoiding each other.

One of the first things to remember when spending time outside is to make noise when moving through new areas and travel in groups of two or more as larger group sizes are shown to reduce negative bear encounters. When hiking with dogs, make sure you have a leash on hand as they may escalate an encounter with a bear or bring a bear back to your location if not under your control.

If you encounter a bear that does not see you, it is recommended to slowly move away from the bear without being detected. If the bear approaches, do not run. Stand your ground, get out your deterrent, gather your group together, watch the bear, and talk to the bear in a calm firm voice. If the bear continues to approach, try to scare it away by making yourself as large and imposing as possible by stretching your arms overhead and making loud noises. If an attack is deemed inevitable, deploy your deterrents.

Two methods of protecting yourself from a potential bear attack are to carry capsaicin bear spray or a firearm. Both require practice. It’s a good idea to become familiar with your preferred deterrent before you venture in the wilds. Taking a course to familiarize yourself with how to deploy bear spray safely and effectively is a great way to accomplish this.

When you’re in bear country, it’s always a good reminder to stay alert and be prepared. For more information on being Bear Aware visit