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#SummerScienceFriday | Beware the Bear?

While hiking to one of our #LARWMP sites in the Angeles National Forest, our monitoring team came across trash cans that were seemingly opened by an animal. We assumed a raccoon was the culprit, but on the hike back, we spotted a mother black bear and her cubs climbing the mountain opposite of us! Last weekend, the team encountered the bears again, but this time, they were much closer and approached the very populated trailhead. While the team remained unharmed, this got us thinking, what do you do when encountering a bear? How do we ensure that we, and the bears, remain unharmed? This week’s #SummerScienceFriday is your chance to learn all about black bears: where they live, how they live, and most importantly, how to stay safe when you run into one!

All About Black Bears

Black bears are commonly found in North America and range from Alaska and Canada down into northern Mexico. Currently, their population is estimated at around 750,000, with at least 30,000 living in California. According to the IUCN Red List, black bears are a species of least concern, and their population has been increasing due to more restrictive hunting laws (1). Male black bears typically weigh 200-500 pounds and females, 100-300 pounds. They prefer to live in large forests, near pools and streams, but can live almost anywhere as long as they have enough access to food. Their diets mainly consist of nuts, fruits, insects, and succulent greens. They’ll only eat meat when resources are scarce, and due to more human activity in black bear habitat, many bears have added human garbage into their diets.

Myth or Fact?

A huge misconception about black bears is that mothers are likely to attack people in defense of their cubs. There has actually been no record of a black bear killing anyone in defense of her cubs. This aggressive misconception is attributed to the confusion with grizzly bears, where 70% of the grizzly bear attacks have been of mothers defending their cubs (2).

Encountering a Black Bear

Since a black bear is not typically aggressive, an encounter with one will most likely result in them leaving. If they don’t leave, it suggests that the bears are accustomed to humans and don’t see you as a threat. However, just to be safe, if you can walk away, leave the area and the bears unbothered. If you can’t, then try to scare them away. Jumping up and down while yelling may be enough to scare them, but sometimes it may be necessary to knock pots and pans together! If a black bear feels especially threatened and doesn’t see escape as an option, it may start moaning, clacking its jaws, or even pouncing. These actions are called bluster, and while this may make the bear seem more ferocious, this is actually a sign of nervousness (2). The best thing to do when in contact with a blustering bear to is to slowly walk away. If this isn't an option, stand your ground, make yourself big, and make lots of noise.

This Labor Weekend, get outside and be #WatershedActive! However, keep in mind that you may be sharing your hiking or camping trip with some bear-y hairy locals and remember the rules above to stay safe! For those who want to learn more about all the bears, the North American Bear Center has a comprehensive website with answers to any questions you could ask about black bears, grizzly bears, and polar bears!

Works Cited

Thank you to our #SummerScienceFriday partner!

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