Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park: Staying Safe in Bear Country

March 9, 2010, 12:14 pm

Bear tracks and a freshly dug hole in the snow indicate some bears are awake and venturing out looking for food in and around Glacier National Park.  During the first week of March, there have been three separate sightings of bear tracks throughout the park. Tracks and a large hole dug in the snow were seen by a ranger in the Belly River area. Tracks were also spotted by visitors near Many Glacier and Lake McDonald. 

Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright remarked, “With these early March reports of bear activity, park visitors are reminded to be alert for bear activity and to be familiar with and comply with safety regulations.”

Recreational visitors should travel in groups and make loud noise by calling out and/or clapping their hands at frequent intervals, especially near streams and at blind spots and curves on trails. These actions will help avoid surprise encounters. Do not approach any wildlife; instead, use binoculars, telescopes, or telephoto lenses to get closer looks.

Visitors are also reminded to keep food, garbage and other attractants stored in hard-sided vehicles or bear-proof food storage boxes when not in use.  Garbage must be deposited into a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster.  These actions help keep bears from becoming conditioned to human food, and help keep park visitors and their personal property safe.

Cartwright added, “It is important to note that Glacier National Park is in the heart of grizzly country. That is one of the reasons many people visit the park each year. We encourage park visitors to carry, and know how to properly use, bear pepper spray as a deterrent for a charging grizzly bear.”  No single deterrent is 100 percent effective, but compared to all others, including firearms, proper use of bear spray has proven to be the best method for fending off threatening and attacking bears, and for preventing injury to the person and animal involved.

A new federal law that went into effect on February 22, 2010, allows the
carrying of firearms within national parks and wildlife refuges consistent
with state laws.   Glacier managers agree with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and
Parks’ statement:  "If you are armed, use a firearm only as a last resort.
Wounding a bear, even with a large caliber gun, can put you in far greater
danger."

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) investigations of
human-bear encounters since 1992, persons encountering grizzlies and
defending themselves with firearms suffered injury about 50 percent of the
time.  During the same period, persons defending themselves with pepper
spray escaped injury most of the time and those that were injured
experienced shorter duration attacks and less severe injuries.

Web site links of interest:

•     U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Tips for Living and Recreating in
Grizzly Bear Country: http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/grizzly/fact_sheets.htm

•     Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Encountering a Bear: http://fwp.mt.gov/recreation/safety/wildlife/bears/bearEncounter.html

•     Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Bear Pepper Spray: http://fwp.mt.gov/recreation/safety/wildlife/bears/bearSpray.html

Visitors should report any bear sightings or signs of bear activity to the
nearest visitor center, ranger station or by calling (406) 888-7800 as soon
as possible.  This information helps park rangers keep bears away from
unnatural food sources, as well as prevents bears from becoming habituated
to humans.

Cartwright further noted, “While feeding of any wildlife is illegal in
Glacier National Park, these reports of recent bear activity also serves as
a reminder to park neighbors that the winter practice of feeding birds
should be suspended, as emerging bears in the spring can be attracted to
bird feeders as a food source.”

Safety recommendations for foot travel while in bear country tend to
receive more attention; however, there are other natural hazards that park
visitors should be aware of and be prepared for when they venture outdoors.
Although famed naturalist and conservationist John Muir once said, "It is
far safer to wander into God's woods than to travel on black highways or to
stay at home," Glacier National Park can be filled with many potential
dangers.

“We want everyone to have a safe experience while enjoying the
park,” said Cartwright.  

Go to the park’s web page at http://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/yoursafety.htm for details about: Bears, Water, Wildlife, Mountain Lions and Watch Your Step.

“These potential hazards are not mentioned to scare people but rather to remind everyone to be prepared, be familiar with their equipment and know their personal limitations.  Glacier National Park is a wonderland to explore and experience during each of its many seasons, but we want park visitors to have a safe outing,” concluded Cartwright.