Some habits die hard

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 12:07:35 07/03/16

This is just the latest installment in a story that is a week old or longer. It started with some misguided hiker dropping a day pack to "distract" this sub-adult bear.

I've published the story of Black Bart, the infamous black bear road agent from the 1980s in Rocky Mountain National Park, before on this page. Bart's road to ruin commenced with a startled hiker dropping a pack on the trail to "distract" the bear. Bart's illustrious career included pilfering an even dozen PBJ's from a couple women backpackers at a campsite along the Longs Peak trail. When a backcountry ranger arrived to take a report, Bart showed up, and started trying to get into the ranger's day pack. Eventually, Bart was busted breaking into the food locker of a closed restaurant just outside the park, and a few weeks later, met his demise at the hands of a bow hunter outside the park.

Thankfully, the Be Bear Aware people and other subject matter experts changed the narrative on how people should behave when confronted by an aggressive bear. That was many years ago, and still, the old prescription of dropping a pack "or something" to distract the bear while you make your escape, persists.

Of course, if you visit Denali, you will still see stores, including the ARAMARK store INSIDE the park, selling bear bells. We've known for at least 15 years that they don't work, and can actually be dangerous via engendering a false sense of security. I am repeatedly amazed at how many hikers I encounter on the trails in Alaska that apparently haven't gotten the word. They don't carry pepper spray, but they sure have a bear bell affixed to their pack.

Ironically, there are a number of more intelligent people, primarily women hiking solo or with another woman, who bring one or more dogs along, and equip their dog with a bell. I've conversed with several of these people along the trail, and most use the bell primarily as a means of their keeping track of the bear's location, when walking through areas that are thick with vegetation. I've had several dog encounters where I heard the dog long before I saw it. It's nice to have a head's up on the approach of a canine, particularly if it is a large variety, just so you are not startled. I think the bells work better on dogs because they have all 4 feet in motion, and tend to be more active.

I can't help but think that if the first visitors the Denali grizzly encountered a week or so ago had not thrown a pack down, and better yet, sprayed the bear with pepper spray, we would have an aversion-conditioned bear that may have learned to avoid humans.


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