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Here's What To Do if a Black Bear Interrupts Your Hike

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A black bear in California | Photo: Wade Tregaskis, some rights reserved

Earlier this week a 53-year-old man was injured after an unfortunate encounter with a black bear in the Angeles National Forest. According to California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) spokesman Andrew Hughan, the man was hiking alone two miles north of Bailey Canyon Wilderness Park near Sierra Madre when he crossed paths with a fully-grown, mature adult bear.

In a scene straight out of the Jurassic Park velociraptors' handbook, the bear stood up on its hind legs, and while he was distracted by the massive carnivore, a second bear knocked the man down, leaving him with several cuts and scratches and other non-life threatening injuries.

While the man was quite lucky in this situation – he walked out on his own and called 911 for assistance – the best way to avoid a negative encounter with a bear is to try to avoid bear encounters in the first place.

As Hughan told KCET in August when a black bear turned up in Malibu Creek State Park, "if you see a bear, scream, take your jacket off [and wave it around], yell at it." And definitely do not try to get closer for a photo or a selfie.

In this particular incident, it seems the attack was random, and not the result of this sort of foolish behavior. Hughan underscores the fact that bear sightings of any kind remain extremely rare.

Until the 1800s, Los Angeles was once home to the far more menacing grizzly bear, a reminder of which adorns our state flag. Since then, the more diminutive black bears have taken up residence in the more natural parts of Los Angeles's highly fragmented landscape, where they seem to be thriving.

Bailey Canyon and the Mt. Wilson trail are closed until further notice, and the bears are not considered a threat to the community of Sierra Madre. CDFW continues to investigate, but as of Wednesday, they announced that they had not yet made any plans to trap or capture any bears. However, if they decide to do so, they can use DNA left behind on the victim's clothing to make a positive identification. If they do, they could decide to euthanize it.

Here's hoping the two bears were just having a bad day, and will avoid humans in the future. In the meantime, the incident gives us a reason to reprint this list of techniques for de-escalating encounters with black bears, whether in the San Gabriels or near a meat-filled freezer in Glendale:   

  1. Remain calm and move slowly. In most black bear encounters in California, the bear will take off as soon as it sees you. A curious bear may stand on its hind legs to see you better, but this is not necessarily aggressive behavior.
  2. If the bear is cornered, back off slowly to give it room to escape. Don't turn your back on it, but do back up a few yards as calmly and slowly as you can. This is especially true if you meet a sow with small cubs.
  3. Pick up any children with you, and leash your dog. Better yet, don't bring your dog to bear country. Put small kids on your shoulders: this protects them and makes you look bigger.
  4. Make noise. Talk, sing, yell. Bang metal pots. Let the bear know that you're human and intimidating. Wave your arms.
  5. Do not run. Not even if the bear charges at you. If you can see a charging black bear it's not stalking you: it's merely trying to intimidate you with a bluff charge. Running is prey behavior, and may encourage the bear to attack you for real. A typical black bear can run at 30 miles per hour and can climb trees. You won't be able to outrun it. Instead, retreat slowly, facing the animal the entire time.
  6. If the bear actually attacks you, fight back. Throw rocks, thwap it with tree branches, punch and kick if it comes to that.
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