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"Never push a slower friend down" if you come across a bear, park service says

..."even if you feel the friendship has run its course."
Posted at 3:40 PM, Mar 02, 2023

As warmer weather returns, soon too will the bears that have been hibernating through winter, making it more likely that you could encounter one in the wild. And if you do, officials say there's is one thing you should "never" do – "push a slower friend down" so that you can escape.

The National Park Service issued the warning on Tuesday, saying that you should refrain from pushing down someone slower "even if you feel the friendship has run its course."

"Seeing a bear in the wild is a special treat for any visitor to a national park," the agency said. "While it is an exciting moment, it is important to remember that bears in national parks are wild and can be dangerous."

Instead of serving your friend – or perhaps a former one – up as bait, the service said that there are several other approaches you can take to help make sure you both make it out safely.

The most important thing about bears to keep in mind is that despite how fluffy and adorable they may appear, they are, in fact, wild animals and "their behavior is sometimes unpredictable," the agency said. Bear attacks are "rare," they added, but they do happen.

Most recently in the U.S, a polar bear killed a 24-year-old woman and her 1-year-old baby in Alaska, marking the first fatal incident from polar bears in the state in decades. A few months before in October, there was also a recorded grizzly bear attack in northwestern Wyoming's Shoshone National Forest. That incident occurred when two men went off a trail to look for deer and elk antlers and surprised the animal.

And last May, a soldier was killed by a brown bear in a military training area in Alaska.

It's not clear just how many bear attacks there are each year, but in Yellowstone National Park, your chances of being hurt by a grizzly bear are about 1 in 2.7 million, according to the National Park Service. A search on the NPS website reveals very few incidents in 2022 other than the ones previously mentioned.

"Most bear encounters end without injury," the NPS says. "Following some basic guidelines may help to lessen the threat of danger. Your safety can depend on your ability to calm the bear."

First and foremost, you want to do everything you can to avoid an encounter in the first place, the agency says.

"Keeping your distance and not surprising bears are some of the most important things you can do. Most bears will avoid humans if they hear them coming," the park service said, adding that you should "make a special effort" to maintain awareness of what's going on around you and properly plan to avoid areas with known bear activity.

How to avoid a bear attack

But of course, there is a chance encounters will still occur when out and about on the wild animals' turf. So if you do, here's what the agency recommends:

  • Stand your ground and slowly wave your arms to identify yourself as a human
  • Remain calm and speak to the animal in "low tones" that are non-threatening – screaming or sudden movements could make the animal think you're prey and trigger an attack
  • If you have small children with you, pick them up immediately 
  • Use the buddy system when hiking and traveling, and preferably travel in larger groups 
  • Carry EPA-approved bear pepper spray that can be used on an aggressive or attacking bear

The agency also offers some very clear suggestions of what not to do:

  • Don't give the bear food 
  • Don't drop your bag 
  • Don't turn your back on the bear or run, as the animals can "run as fast as a racehorse" and will chase you
  • Don't climb a tree because some bears can too
  • "Never" put yourself between a mother bear and her offspring or try to approach them because the mother will likely consider that a threat 

If the situation does become violent and an attack ensues, the most important tip the agency offers is to make sure you don't play dead. Instead, you should "fight back." Overall, the agency has repeatedly warned, it's important to make sure you plan ahead and make sure that you are up-to-date on what's going on in the area you hike, understand the situation you are going into and "remember you are a visitor in their home."