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How dangerous are black bears?

lynn_walking_with_bears.jpgIn working closely with wild bears for the past 40 years, I have gradually become more and more comfortable with them as I learned their "language" and how they think. I have learned to trust certain bears and bear families to the extent that they mostly ignore me as I walk and sleep with them for up to 24 hours at a time.

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What if I see a bear that seems threatening?

blustery_bear.jpg This picture shows harmless bluster by a nervous black bear—a mature female. She made her muzzle long and narrow, lunged forward, blew loudly, and slammed her front feet down into the snow. Predictably, she lunged against a sapling that would shake and make her ritualized display the more impressive. She lunged with startling suddenness—but with no risk of attack. She was nervous because a familiar researcher brought an unfamiliar partner. Nevertheless, the three proceeded to walk together uneventfully as the bear went about her business.

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What if I see a black bear?

bear_marsh_marigolds.jpg This is probably the most common question we hear. 

The standard answer nationwide is, "Speak calmly and back away slowly."  This is good advice.  It identifies you as a person, shows that you are non-threatening, and gives the bear space.

Is following this advice necessary to avoid an attack?  No.  

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Will a black bear sense I'm afraid and attack?

mother_and_cub_in_fall.jpgNo.  Most people ARE afraid near bears and are not attacked.

Black bears are not looking for a vulnerable person to attack.  Their first concern is that THEY will be attacked.

Black bears may have the same worries people do about appearing afraid and vulnerable.  That might be why they become blustery when they are nervous.