Grizzly Bear

The grizzly bear (Ursus Arctos) is the largest of the two bears found in BC and it inhabits a wide variety of ecosystems. Grizzlies are not found on Vancouver Island nor on Haida Gwaii. Although similar to the black bear in a number of ways, their sheer size and relatively low numbers (about one tenth of the black bear population in the province) make them an animal of great interest to many.

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BC's grizzly number around 15,000 animals and this represents about one quarter of the entire North American population of grizzlies. Closely studied, grizzly bears are sorted into population units, and the relative sustainability of these units is monitored. You can find an incredible amount of information on grizzly populations by visiting the BC Government's grizzly page here.

A new brochure Who’s Who: Know your bears is now available and highlights the differences and similarities between Black Bears and Grizzly Bears. Take the quiz and see if YOU know your bears!

Grizzly Bear Facts

  • Adult males measure between 90-110 cm at shoulder height and can weigh upwards of 500 kilograms.
  • Females are smaller than their male counterparts (about 60% the size of a male).
  • Grizzly bear weights fluctuate greatly depending upon the individual, area, and time of season. Beras emerging from the den are about 20-30% lighter than bears entering the den.
  • Grizzly bears have a variety of coat colours, from dark black, to light brown and silvery (grizzled) coats.
  • Grizzly bears have long claws especially designed for digging - they target both roots of plants, and a variety of rodents that live underground.
  • The long claws of the grizzly are not well-suited for climbing but they can, none-the-less, climb quite well.
  • Grizzly bears have eyesight and hearing as good as or better than that of humans. The myth about bears having poor eyesight is due in part to the bears habit of standing and apparently looking around as if to get a better look at people. What is more likely the case is that the bear is standing to get a better smell of you.

 

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  • Adult grizzlies have few predators in the wild.
  • Grizzly cubs may be subject to depredation by adult male grizzlies, and if unprotected by the sow can be killed by cougars, wolves or black bears.
  • Grizzlies can be long lived (upwards of 30 years)
  • Grizzlies are extremely fast over short distances and can bring down large ungulates like moose and caribou.
  • Grizzlies are normally solitary animals apart from when sows are with their young and tend to only congregate when there is an abundance of food.
  • While grizzly bears have a “home range” they do not have a territory that they defend as their own. Bears will tolerate other bears in their presence when there is an abundance of food such as a run of salmon.
  • Grizzly bears are omnivorous animals with vegetation making up about 80% of their diet and the remainder coming from things like small rodents, fish, insects, carrion (dead animals) and sometimes young deer, elk, caribou or moose. Male bears tend to eat more meat than do females. Diets vary substantially with the season, the individual and the area.
  • Grizzly cubs remain with their mother for two to three summer seasons.

Many grizzlies target salmon runs for a part of the diet - but there are some populations of grizzlies that do not have access to salmon of any type.

Reducing Conflict Where We Live

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Looking at the above graph we can quickly see some of the major attractants that bring grizzly bears into conflicts with humans. Livestock, which includes things like chickens, pigs, sheep, goats and cattle, is a great caloric reward for a grizzly and, unless protected in some way, a relatively risk-free meal for the bear. Fruit, while lacking the caloric reward of livestock is often much more available and a bear can bulk up quickly thanks to an poorly managed fruit tree. Garbage, as for black bears, is also a powerful attractant - and really should be one of the easiest things to manage - but still some people do not understand the need to keep garbage secure until the day of collection.

Here are the major attractants for grizzlies and what you can do to help reduce the potential for conflict while managing these items:

Livestock

(Account for 35% of calls concerning grizzlies when an attractant is noted - 2014-2017 data)

Grizzlies, due to their large size, speed and sheer strength are formidable predators and can count everything from chicken and rabbits up to cattle as part of their potential diet. Raising livestock in grizzly country puts an onus on the owner to protect the livestock from depredation by grizzlies and other predators. Check out specific electric fencing information here.

Other things to consider when raising livestock:

  • Keep feed secured indoors or in bear resistant containers.
  • Keep chickens and small livestock in at night.
  • Keep young animals close to the home and protected with electric fencing.
  • Don’t bury carcasses in areas where you wish to exclude bears.
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Fruit Trees

Fruit trees are great for food security and can hit all the check boxes for a locally sourced, organic, contribution to a diet - but, if not managed properly, can create major safety concerns for the home-owner and may contribute to the destruction of a food-conditioned bear. Grizzly eat a lot of wild fruit like huckleberries, blueberries, elder berries and mountain ash so they can quickly adopt our fruit trees as their own.

  • Pick fruit and allow it to ripen indoors or pick daily as it ripens. Do not allow windfall to accumulate on the ground.
  • If you do not want the fruit, prune the tree vigorously to prevent blossoms or spray spring blossoms with a garden hose to knock them off.
  • If you would like to make the fruit available to others, contact a local fruit exchange program or food bank.
  • Consider using electric fencing to protect your fruit trees.
  • If you no longer want to manage your tree, consider replacement with a native, non-fruit bearing variety.

Garbage

Properly managing your garbage will not only prevent grizzlies from accessing it, but it will also keep a multitude of other animals from becoming food-conditioned and at great risk of being destroyed for having become a 'problem' animal in our neighbourhoods.

  • Store garbage in a secure building until collection day or consider purchasing a bear-resistant household container.
  • Ensure bins are tightly closed.
  • Regularly wash all recycling items and clean the bins that contain garbage or recycling.
  • Do not leave garbage in the back of a truck, even if it has a canopy.
  • If you cannot store garbage securely, freeze smelly items and add to the bin only on the morning of collection.

Reducing Conflict Where We Work

People who work in the wilderness and rural areas of BC need to understand what animals they are likely to come across and what precautions need to be taken to ensure that these encounters are safe for both the worker and the wildlife.

  • Understand the probability of encounter for both the area and for the time you will be working in an area. If possible, time your work in the area to minimize the possibility of an encounter: e.g. if you need to take soil samples in a berry patch that is known to have a large population of bears try to sample the area before or after the berry crop, or if you need to be there when berries are in season try to be in the area during the heat of the day and when bears are more likely to be sleeping in a cooler area.
  • Take training such as offered in the DVD “Staying Safe in Bear Country.” This is an excellent video and covers everything you need to know about bear safety. It is the best 30 minutes you will spend in terms of your education about bears.
  • Carry Bear Spray with you. Remember to:
    • Have taken training in its proper use
    • Check the expiry date and have a current can
    • Transport it properly (appropriate container, in the box of truck, trunk, or back of your vehicle under a blanket)
    • Carry it with you in a quick release holster in easy reach (never tucked under a rain jacket or in the back of your pack)
  • The best bear encounter is the one you avoid so always be vigilant when in the bush. Watch for bear sign (scat, tracks, signs of grazing, overturned logs, claw marks on trees, etc.).
    • Bear scat varies in size, consistency and content depending upon the season. Typically high in plant content, the bear scat will become loose and runny the more the bear feeds on berries.
    • Bear tracks will show all five toes and claw marks about an inch or so above the toe pads.
    • Overturned logs and stumps torn apart should be checked for signs of freshness.
  • Talk or sing while working to let the bears know you are in the area. The sound from bear bells do not carry as far nor are as distinct as the sound of human voices.
  • Be especially vigilant if you are working alongside running water, in thick bush or if there is a strong wind blowing – in these circumstances a bear is less likely to hear you and a chance for a surprise encounter is greater.
  • Pack out whatever you pack in: do not leave any organics behind – even though that apple core will rot and decompose, it could also be eaten by a bear that would then associate the smell of humans with a food reward.
  • It is best not to work alone in bear country. Just the fact that there are two of you in the area should help prevent a bear encounter.
  • If you do have a bear encounter remember these safety basics:
    • Bear encounter basics
      • Assess what type of encounter it is – defensive or predatory
        • A defensive encounter will usually be marked by a lot of noise by the bear and a head on rush at you.
          • Hold your ground and pull out your bear spray and release the safety
          • Speak to the bear in a loud low voice saying things like “Whoa bear – you’d better back off”
          • If the bear continues its charge and closes to within 5-10 meters, deploy your bear spray in a short burst, aiming from the ground up to create a wall between you and the bear. When the bear retreats, head back to your vehicle and contact the Conservation Officer Reporting line as soon as possible. Alert others in the area to the presence of the bear.
          • If the bear breaks off its charge before you have to deploy your spray – take a step or two back away from the bear. Continue to speak in a low voice. Do not make direct eye contact with the bear. Keep your bear spray at the ready. Once the bear knows you are not a threat it should leave or return to what it was protecting. Continue to back away and keep an eye on the bear. Return to your vehicle and alert the authorities and your co-workers as to the presence of the bear.
        • Make sure your camp is properly set up
          • Temporary, back country camps
            • Before choosing your site, do a walk around – a couple of circuits of increasing radius to check for signs of wildlife in the immediate area
            • Do not set up along known wildlife corridors or in high use areas (look for tracks, scat, signs of feeding, etc.)
            • Set up with good sight lines
            • Cook and eat away from your tent
            • Store all food in bear resistant containers and/or suspend from a line stretched between two trees. Make sure the bottom of your pack is at least 3m above the ground and 1.5m from the nearest tree.
            • Do not have any food in your tent
            • Keep the area clean and odour free
            • When sleeping in your tent, have your bear spray and a flashlight in a readily accessible area.
            • Consider using a packable electric fence
          • Long term work camps
            • Choose a site that will not be in conflict with existing wildlife usage (e.g. do not set up alongside a known salmon spawning stream)
            • Use bear-resistant garbage containers and have a solid waste management plan in place.
            • Keep the site garbage and odour free.
            • Train all personnel as to their responsibilities with regards to attractant management.
            • Feeding of any wildlife should be prohibited.
            • Electric fencing should be erected on all sites that have a high probability of a bear encounter.
            • Have a wildlife reporting system in place so shift workers can be appraised of any activity around the camp.
            • Have bear spray available in areas known to all personnel.
            • Have clear sight lines around all buildings.
            • Have proper lighting in the camp, along with motion activated lights.

Reducing Conflict Where We Play

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Recreating in grizzly country puts an onus on the visitor to: first, understand the risks involved, and secondly to take steps to minimize the potential for conflict.

Grizzlies differ from black bears in that they evolved in treeless environments and their response to a perceived threat is to charge and assert themselves against the threat. Black bears, having evolved in treed environments would sooner climb a tree or run into a forest to escape a perceived threat. This creates the situation where surprising a grizzly is potentially more dangerous than surprising a black bear (although neither situation is advised).

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General Tips

    • Understand the probability of encounter for both the area and for the time you will be recreating in an area. If possible, time your visit to the area to minimize the possibility of an encounter: e.g. if you want to go hiking in an area where you know there is a good berry crop, try to time your hike through the area before or after the berry crop, or if you need to be there when berries are in season try to be in the area during the heat of the day and when bears are more likely to be sleeping in a cooler area.
    • Take training such as offered in the DVD “Staying Safe in Bear Country.” This is an excellent video and covers everything you need to know about bear safety. It is the best 30 minutes you will spend in terms of your education about bears.
    • Carry Bear Spray with you. Remember to:
      • Have taken training in its proper use
      • Check the expiry date and have a current can
      • Transport it properly (appropriate container, in the box of truck, trunk, or back of your vehicle under a blanket)
      • Carry it with you in a quick release holster in easy reach (never tucked under a rain jacket or in the back of your pack)
    • The best bear encounter is the one you avoid so always be vigilant when in the bush. Watch for bear sign (scat, tracks, signs of grazing, overturned logs, claw marks on trees, etc.).
    • Bear scat varies in size, consistency and content depending upon the season. Typically high in plant content, the bear scat will become loose and runny the more the bear feeds on berries.
    • Bear tracks will show all five toes and claw marks about an inch or so above the toe pads.
    • Overturned logs and stumps torn apart should be checked for signs of freshness.
    • Talk or sing while recreating to let the bears know you are in the area. The sound from bear bells do not carry as far nor are as distinct as the sound of human voices.
    • Be especially vigilant if you are walking alongside running water, in thick bush or if there is a strong wind blowing – in these circumstances a bear is less likely to hear you and a chance for a surprise encounter is greater.
    • Pack out whatever you pack in: do not leave any organics behind – even though that apple core will rot and decompose, it could also be eaten by a bear that would then associate the smell of humans with a food reward.
    • It is best not to hike alone in bear country. Just the fact that there are two of you in the area should help prevent a bear encounter. Some national parks set a minimum group size when hiking in bear country.
    • If you do have a bear encounter remember these safety basics:
      • Bear encounter basics
        • Assess what type of encounter it is – defensive or predatory
          • A defensive encounter will usually be marked by a lot of noise by the bear and a head on rush at you.
          • Hold your ground and pull out your bear spray and release the safety
          • Speak to the bear in a loud low voice “Whoa – you’d better back off”
          • If the bear continues its charge and closes to within 5-10 meters deploy your bear spray in a short burst, aiming from the ground up to create a wall between you and the bear. When the bear retreats, head back to your vehicle and contact the Conservation Officer Reporting line as soon as possible. Alert others in the area to the presence of the bear.
          • If the bear breaks off its charge before you have to deploy your spray – take a step or two back away from the bear. Continue to speak in a low voice. Do not make direct eye contact with the bear. Keep your bear spray at the ready. Once the bear knows you are not a threat it should leave or return to what it was protecting. Continue to back away and keep an eye on the bear. Return to your vehicle and alert the authorities and your co-workers as to the presence of the bear.

Mountain Biking

  • Mountain bikers put themselves at greater risk for a confrontation with a bear because of the biker’s speed and relatively quiet mode of transport.
  • Before heading out on trails, check the WARP program or trailhead signs to see if any bears have been reported in the area. If bears have been sighted recently in the area, consider a second trail. The best bear encounter is the one you avoid.
  • Carry bear spray in a readily accessible (yet protected area) and know how to use it.
  • Ride in groups whenever possible.
  • Watch for bear sign and keep your group closer together and talk loudly if you see fresh sign. Bears should give you lots of room if they know you are in the area.
  • Learn from locals as to what trails have the potential for meeting bears at what time of the year and choose your rides accordingly.

Camping

  • Front country/designated sites
    • Use bear resistant bins and/or follow food storage rules as set out at the campsite.
    • Keep your campsite clean and odour free.
    • Be aware of the activities of other campers – the food they leave out could very well bring a bear through your campsite. Report any inappropriate behaviour to the appropriate authorities.
    • Do not have any food in your tent.
  • Back country camping
    • Before choosing your site, do a walk around – a couple of circuits of increasing radius to check for signs of wildlife in the immediate area
    • Do not set up along known wildlife corridors or in high use areas (look for tracks, scat, signs of feeding, etc.)
    • Set up with good sight lines
    • Cook and eat away from your tent
    • Store all food in bear resistant containers and/or suspend from a line stretched between two trees. Make sure the bottom of your pack is at least 3m above the ground and 1.5m from the nearest tree.
    • Do not have any food in your tent
    • Keep the area clean and odour free
    • When sleeping in your tent, have your bear spray and a flashlight in a readily accessible area.
    • Consider using a packable electric fence

 Photography

  • Nature photographers, especially those wanting to get that perfect shot of a bear need to take special precautions to keep both them and the bears safe.
  • Never feed a bear to get the shot (it is illegal and very unsafe)
  • Give the bears plenty of room, never approach a bear closer than 100 meters unless you are in your vehicle
  • Never crowd, surround or follow a bear
  • Watch for signs of the animal becoming stressed by your presence and leave at the first signs of such stress. Bears may ‘pop’ their jaws, woof, or stomp their paws. Increased head swaying, ears laid back and the bear no longer feeding are signs of imminent trouble.
  • Bear photography is best done from a vehicle or a regulated viewing platform
  • Report any inappropriate activity by others – it may save a life.
  • Check out the discussion by professional photographers about the ethics of wildlife photography at
  • The national park board also has some good guidelines for wildlife photography here.
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