KALISPELL – Dozens of law enforcement officers from Flathead and Lake counties trained on Thursday in Lone Pine Park on how to respond to wildlife attacks.
In Montana, it’s not uncommon to be out hiking, walking or running and come across a bear or a mountain lion. Erik Wenum, with Fish Wildlife and Parks, told MTN News the best thing to do is minimize the surprise wildlife encounter ahead of time by making a ton of human noise.
Wenum says yelling, clapping and saying, “Hey bear,” are all good things to do. Bear bells aren’t the best, according to Wenum, because they create a novel sound to bears that will only draw their attention more. Bears, much like humans, take issue with surprises.
“We’ve invaded their personal space. Everyone has personal space, that envelope that we feel comfortable with people outside of. Bears have the same thing. So when we’ve stepped into that personal space, that’s the surprise, that’s the startle response,” explained Erik Wenum.
Wenum detailed how a surprise wildlife encounter can turn deadly.
“What they want to do is, they’re looking for an escape route, and if they don’t feel like they have an adequate escape route where they can just run away into the brush and hide, they’ll go ahead and attack. And then what they’re doing is neutralizing that threat,” said Wenum.
Wenum explained the best ways of responding to black bear, grizzly bear or mountain lion attacks largely differ.
If you run into a black bear, he recommends fighting back; but if you come across a grizzly bear, curl up into the fetal position with your hands behind your neck to protect your vital organs.
If you run into a mountain lion, a mountain lion’s goal is to attack and eat you. The best things to do are fight back, make yourself look bigger than you appear and throw things at it.
When these types of situations take a turn for the worst, Brian Sommers enters the picture — he’s been the criminal investigator for FWP for over 30 years. He told MTN News that a common mistake occurs after people have played dead in the fetal position during a grizzly attack.
“Remain there, even after the bear is done what it’s doing,” Sommers explained. “A lot of time[s], they’ll move on. But what happens is that people play dead, and then after a minute or so, they sit up, and the bear is still sitting there watching, thinking, ‘Hey, did I do a good enough job reducing the threat the first time?'”
Sommers continued: “And when the person sits up, they come back in, and the attack starts again. And a lot of the time, the second time’s worse than the first.”
Wenum says bear activity is low this summer due to high huckleberry growth because more huckleberries mean bears won’t seek food elsewhere, like garbage cans.
Both Wenum and Sommers recommend always carrying bear spray, as it works on many forms of wildlife. It can neutralize bears, mountain lions and even moose.
-Reported by Maren Siu/MTN News