If you visit a national park in the U.S., do not abandon your hiking companion or companions to a bear to save yourself.
That is the rather odd advice now being offered by the National Park Service, which posted this warning on its Facebook page on Aug. 5.:
Apparently someone at the agency thought this was funny, hip or cool. They even added this at the end of their post:
“P.S. We apologize to any ‘friends’ who were brought on a hike as the ‘bait’ or were sacrificed to save the group. You will be missed.”
The post offered no tips on what to do if a friend happens to be attacked. Neither did it mention bear spray or firearms.
The post did offer the standard rudimentary tips on what to do if you meet a bear. The tips are almost as useless as they are helpful, including the oft-repeated advice of “do not run.”
This is true if you meet a bear in the wild. It is not necessarily true if you meet a bear in or near civilization, which is where many people meet bears.
If you are close to your car or an accessible building, it might be wise to run into the building or dive into the car. Bears are not “like dogs,” as the post claims.
Some bears will chase people who run. Some won’t. Running is generally not recommended, but the author has talked to dozens of Alaskans who admitted panicking and running from a bear without being chased.
Whatever the case, none of it is a joking matter. Visitors to a variety of national parks in Alaska have been killed and in several cases largely eaten by bears.
They were killed and consumed by a coastal brown bear, the biggest version of an Alaska grizzly, in Katmai National Park and Preserve. At least two people have been killed and eaten – one by a grizzly bear and one by a black bear – in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, formerly Glacier Bay National Monument.
At least one person has been killed by a bear in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. The last person to be killed and fed upon by a bear was a photographer in Denali National Park and Preserve in 2012. It is not a pleasant way to die.
As Alaska wildlife biologist John Hechtel has observed, “bears don’t kill, they eat.” The sounds of one eating Treadwell alive were recorded on a videotape in a camera that had apparently be left running with the lens cap on.
Bears do not normally prey on people. In or out of the national parks of Alaska, they are less dangerous than human strangers, and the deadly human stranger some fear is fairly uncommon. The Federal Bureau of Investigation says more than 90 percent of homicide victims knew their killer.
You are unlikely to be killed by a random stranger, and you are even more unlikely to be killed by a bear.
But bears do kill people. An experienced outdoorsman was killed by a bear on the Kenai Peninsula just days ago.
And while joking about running from bears might be funny among friends – “I don’t have to outrun the bear; I only have to outrun you” – it’s generally not a laughing matter.
A Wyoming hunting guide went after a bear attacking a client last year. He was successful in diverting the bear’s attention. It then attacked him. The client ran off, and the guide was killed by the bear.
If you are worried about bears, the best advice the Park Service could have offered is “never go in the woods alone.” The historically recorded number of bear attacks on groups of three or more people traveling close together can be counted on one hand.
Bears hate crowds even more than a virus-wise human trying to avoid catching COVID-19.
Bear spray and firearms have their place, but traveling together in a group is well-documented as the best way to avoid problems, and you don’t need to learn how to shoot – whether the weapon be a gun or spray.
Floridian Betty Snyder, a 2016 visitor to Denali, captured on film how an unarmed group of three people staying together and cooperated to drive off a grizzly bear. Her demonstration of how a trio faced down a bear can be found here: https://craigmedred.news/2016/07/11/denali-hikers-escape-bear/
The Park Service’s Facebook writers might want to take note.