As human activity expands into areas that were once solely occupied by wildlife, it's more important than ever to teach our children how to live safely and respectfully alongside bears. In fact, the wonderful new book “Mabel Meets a Black Bear” by France Figart helps to teach kids what happens when bears are given access to human food. By instilling a few key lessons in our children, we can help them become bear wise and minimize the chances of negative encounters.
Lesson 1: Understand the behavior of bears
The first step to being bear-wise is understanding the behavior of bears. They are highly intelligent and curious animals, but they are also wary of humans and can become aggressive if they feel threatened. It's important to teach your children that bears are wild animals that should be respected from a distance. Teach your children to recognize the signs of a bear's behavior. For example, if a bear is standing on its hind legs, it may be trying to get a better view of its surroundings or sniffing for food. If a bear is making a huffing noise, it's likely feeling threatened and may attack if provoked. By teaching your children to read these signs, they can learn to stay safe around bears.
Lesson 2: Keep a safe distance
The second lesson in being bear wise is to keep a safe distance from bears. If your child spots a bear in the wild, the best thing to do is to observe it from afar. This means avoiding eye contact, backing away slowly, and making noise to alert the bear to your presence. It's also important to teach your children to be mindful of their surroundings when in bear country. Bears can be found in a variety of habitats, from national parks to suburban neighborhoods, so it's important to always be aware of the potential for an encounter. When hiking or camping, make sure your children know to stay on designated trails and to keep their food and garbage securely stored.
Lesson 3: Proper food storage
The third lesson in being bear wise is proper food storage. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and can detect food from more than a mile away. This means that leaving food or garbage out in the open can attract bears and lead to negative encounters. Teach your children to properly store food and garbage in bear-resistant containers or hang it from a tree at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet from the trunk. This will help prevent bears from becoming habituated to human food and reduce the chances of dangerous encounters.
Lesson 4: Be prepared for encounters
Despite our best efforts, there may still be times when your children encounter a bear. In these situations, it's important to teach your children to stay calm and act appropriately. If your child sees a bear in the wild, then they should avoid running and instead back away slowly while making noise to alert the bear to their presence. If a bear charges, then your child should stand their ground and use bear spray if they have it. Bear spray is a highly effective tool that can deter bears and give your child time to escape.
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