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Know how and when to use bear spray in the outdoors: WildSafeBC

Avoid conflict with wildlife as provincial parks set to re-open for camping and backcountry access
Bear spray doesn’t help much if it’s at the bottom of your pack or if you don’t know how you use it. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News) Bear spray doesn’t help much if it’s at the bottom of your pack or if you don’t know how you use it. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

BC Parks are now open for day use, and on June 1 most provincial campgrounds and backcountry areas will be open for use as well as part of the phased reopening of the province.

WildSafeBC is cautioning campers and backcountry users to be mindful of sharing these spaces with the wildlife that live there.

“For the most part, real wildlife wants nothing to do with humans, but there are times when wildlife may react defensively to your presence,” said Danica Roussy, WildSafeBC community coordinator for Kimberley/Cranbrook. “Additionally, if wildlife has become habituated to humans or food conditioned, the risk of human-wildlife conflict will increase.”

READ MORE: Most of B.C.’s parks reopened, visitors asked to physically distance

WildSafeBC suggests planning ahead and knowing the type of wildlife that you may encounter in the areas you are exploring.

“Know the wildlife’s timetable. Often, mid-day is a good time to avoid many types of larger predators and conversely, dawn and dusk, are inopportune times to be in specific areas,” Roussy said, adding that it is a good idea to know specific knowledge about bears, cougars and ungulates.

Another way to keep yourself safe is to carry bear spray, Roussy says. The WildSafeBC website has a wealth of information on how to properly carry, store and use bear spray.

Roussy says bear spray is very effective against large mammals and should be the first choice as a deterrent.

“Bear spray has been determined to be an effective deterrent that can reduce injury and potentially safe your life. Like a seat belt, it should be considered essential safety equipment when travelling in wildlife country,” says WildSafe. “Carry Bear Spray where it is easily accessible and be ready to deploy it in less than 2 seconds.”

READ MORE: WildSafeBC reporting uptick in raccoon sightings in Kimberley, Cranbrook

It’s also important to use an approved bear spray (225ml – 500ml) and check the expiry date. The propellant in bear spray cans lose it potency over time. Bear spray contains capsaicinoids, which are found in chili peppers and are extremely irritating to eyes and skin.

“Once discharged, the smell of bear spray may attract animals. To responsibly dispose of bear spray, empty the contents in a place away from people,” reads the WildSafeBC website. “Once the can is empty, contact your local solid waste management company to find out their preferred method of disposal. Do not put it in the recycling.”

WildSafeBC says that hunters may be at increased risk of a bear attack, since they are intentionally moving quietly and are more likely to surprise a bear.

Mountain bikers and hikers should also carry bear spray. WildSafe says that mountain bikers should carry bear spray on a holster on their body and not on their bike or backpack, while hikers and trail runners can do the same.

“While trail running avoid using headphones, be vigilant and make noise by occasionally calling out and clapping your hands. Be cautious when travelling downwind or near moving water,” says WildSafeBC. “If animals cannot smell or hear you, they may be surprised and this can lead to a defensive attack. Hike with a partner or in a group whenever possible.”

Another great way to learn how to properly use bear spray is by attending one of WildSafeBC’s in-person demonstrations. In-person demos allow people to feel confident in using their bear spray if the occasion were to arise.

Thirty Three Seconds of Safety: Bear Spray Use from WildSafeBC on Vimeo.

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Corey Bullock

About the Author: Corey Bullock

Corey Bullock is a multimedia journalist and writer who grew up in Burlington, Ontario.
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