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Bear safety tips for the camping season

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates there are 30,000 bears in California and declared May as “Be Bear Aware” month.   The highest number of bears are out in the spring and summer. 

The only bears in California are black bears, which can be blonde or brown as well.  They can sprint up to 35 miles per hour. They are strong swimmers and great tree climbers.  Redwood National and State Park officials say black bears usually view humans as dominant, and because of that, there are few bear encounters at the Redwood National and State Parks.  However, they say steps need to be taken to keep it that way.

"It's very important when you're camping, either in a designated camping spot, or in the back country, to store your food properly.  And not just your food, but your trash, and any other smelly items you may have like shampoo, soaps, sunscreen, lotions, toothpaste," said Jim Wheeler, a Park Ranger/Interpreter for Redwood National and State Parks.

Proper storing includes using a bear proof trash can or bear proof food lockers seen throughout state parks.

“If they have a chance to get to human food, they will.  And once they become addicted to it, they keep seeking it out," Park Ranger Wheeler said.

However, some campsites do not have these amenities.  If they do not, bear proof food canisters, which are available at most outdoor stores, are the preferred method for storing food and other smelly items.  Bears cannot possibly open them and they are supposed to be stored a significant distance away from the campsite.

"It's very important that you use those food lockers, and don't leave your food and other smelly items in your car.  Because bears are very strong, I've actually seen bears rip the doors off of cars before,” said Park Ranger Wheeler.

Park Rangers also say to make sure you clean up all camping and picnic areas after using them, never feed bears, and try to avoid getting between a mother bear and her cubs.  They say if you do encounter a black bear, look for the signs of aggression.

"Threatening behavior includes jaw popping, kind of moving back and forth on their front paws like that, it expresses kind of a nervous situation, and then another thing they'll do sometimes is actually turn sideways and give you a look at how large they are," Park Ranger Wheeler said.

To scare them away, Park Ranger says to make yourself appear large and make loud noises as well, then back away slowly while facing the bear.

"If there's objects around that you can pick up and throw at the bear, that'll often scare them away…If they do attack, you have to fight back with all your might, because that's going to be your only real chance," said Park Ranger Wheeler.

For people who live in areas with a prevalence of bears, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends you do not put your trash out until the morning of collection day, keep doors and windows closed and locked, and only put up bird feeders from November through March.