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Staying Safe in Bear Country


Travelers to Alaska’s Inside Passage are often fortunate enough to get a look at one or more of the region’s many black or brown bears. Bears can usually be seen near salmon streams, and it’s not unusual to spot one or two wandering down the main street of Hoonah during the early morning hours. Visitors to the island are often nervous, however, about the prospect of bear encounters and wonder if there are steps they can take to maximize their personal safety in bear country.

Never Leave Food Items Outdoors

Outdoor cookouts and picnics are popular activities in Southeast Alaska, and the bears know it. Always be sure to pick up leftover food items when the meal is over, and keep in mind that bears have an extremely acute sense of smell. The cooking process also magnifies the scent of food, and there is almost always at least a slight sea breeze blowing in Southeast Alaska that wafts the sweet smells of food being cooked straight into the waiting nostrils of area bears.

Don’t Mess With Mama

One of the most dangerous places in the world is between a mother bear and her cubs. Cubs are born during the months of May and June, and mothers of newborn cubs are more protective than those of older cubs. Even if you believe a bear cub to be abandoned by its mother, do not approach. The mother is likely nearby and will be less than thrilled at any perceived threat toward her young. Other ways of avoiding a run-in with a mama bear include:

  • Make noise. Most bears only attack when startled, and this can easily occur due to the heavily wooded nature of Southeast Alaska. If you’re on wooded trails, clap, sing, and otherwise make some noise to alert area bears to your presence.
  • Don’t walk swiftly, run, or ride bikes on wooded trails with low visibility. Bears interpret swift movement coming towards them as charging behavior, and this may cause them to attack.
  • Use unscented grooming products. Bears are naturally attracted to sweet scents because berries and other wild fruits are among their dietary staples, and baby bears haven’t yet learned to associate fruity and flowery lotions and other scented products with the presence of humans.

Bears have a natural aversion to human company, so avoiding unwanted encounters with them is fairly easy. However, there are bear-viewing stations near salmon spawning grounds that provide safe ways for visitors to get a look at these magnificent creatures.

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