Camping Bear Safe With Kids

In just two more sleeps we leave for our week long vacation in the woods of northern Saskatchewan with a friend of ours and her 2 year old. I am really excited, and as all of the week's meals come together and get frozen, camping gear gets dusted off and tested, and lists get checked and rechecked, I am also a little nervous.

Aside from a weekend music festival with friends last year and my memories of camping with my parents and younger siblings, I have never camped with small children and babies. For that reason we have opted to start the summer by cheating and staying in a cabin.

I can hear my past self from two or three years ago calling my present self a total wuss, but that's ok. My past self may have had the guts to hitch hike across the country with no money, a couple bags of trail mix, and a mickey of rum just to see Tom Petty and The Heart Breakers, but my past self didn't have anyone to worry about but herself. This year I want to start out easy.

My biggest worry about camping, or in this case simply spending a large amount of time outdoors in bear country, with small children isn't how or what to pack for a week, or if we'll have enough to eat and snack on, or what the bugs will be like. It's the fact that we will be spending so much time hiking, swimming, and playing in bear country.

Staying bear safe on your own as an adult is as second nature to me as walking and chewing gum. But children, as we all know, are crawling/walking crumb machines who give off all kinds of smells that could be potentially attractive to bears. And bears, being furry, can easily be potentially attractive to small children who think that big+furry=puppy.

Not to mention that if I get between a mama bear and her cub, mama bear is going to rip me apart. If a bear gets between me and my cub, I'll certainly do my best but I am much smaller and weaker than a bear.

So how do we go about outdoor activities that we enjoy with our kids while still keeping ourselves bear safe? I've done a lot of research and remembering how my parents dealt with it and have come up with my own list.

1) Talk to your child, in an age appropriate way, about the difference between pets and wild animals. Make sure they know that it is ok to play with and trust their own dog or cat, but that it is not ok to approach any strange animals without a parent or trusted adult present.

I am hesitant about talking to Oliver about bear safety specifics too early. When I got the bear safety talk at around the age of 10, it terrified me and camping wasn't really very fun that year. If your child has the tendency to worry or be nervous about new or different situations, it may not be helpful to put the image of tattered tents and angry hulking bears in their heads.

2) Do not allow or encourage your child to feed wild animals. Personally, I won't even let Oliver feed the local geese in town because I do not want him to learn that feeding wild animals is ok. As the bear safety guide lines on the BC Parks website state; A fed bear is a dead bear. Once an animal starts associating humans with easy food they become dangerous, there is no sure way to break that association and those animals usually need to be destroyed.

I once fed a cherry to a wild rabbit while camping and had my mother totally flip out about it. I didn't understand at the time that loving and respecting nature means leaving it to it's own devices. Bear safety isn't just best for humans, it's best for the bears!

3) Always keep your children in sight and travel or hike in groups. Bear attacks on humans are much less likely in groups for a number of reasons. The most obvious being the strength in numbers. Groups of people also tend to be noisier than a lone person. A bear who is startled is much more likely to attack, if they hear you coming most bears will high tail it away from you before you are even aware of it.

4) Tents are for sleeping, not for playing. I was originally going to make this the "no food in your tent" rule, but no playing in the tent makes more sense. Children, especially small children, snack a lot, especially if they are running around outside all day. Many children also like to snack on the go. To avoid small children forgetting to leave their food outside of the tent, or just sneaking it in there cause it's a cool place to hang out, make your tent off limits during the day time. This will also keep the bugs out of your tent by stopping the in and outs and keeping the flap closed.

5) Take a tour of your campsite. To avoid any bear attracting waste being left out, make sure your children know where it is safe to put their garbage, spit their toothpaste, go to the bathroom, and wash themselves or their dirty clothes or dishes. (Even the perfumes in disposable diapers can attract a bear so make sure you know where and how to store your garbage as well!)

6) Avoid letting your children help themselves to food or drink while camping so that you can make sure that air-tight lids are replaced properly, food stored safely, and waste disposed of properly.

7) Do not let your child throw garbage or left over food in the campfire. It seams like the ideal way to get rid of waste without having to pack it out with you, but the fact is that many plastics and food waste do not burn away completely and even the smallest amount of garbage left smoldering in your fire pit can attract a bear.

8) Give your child a loud emergency whistle or other noise maker to carry with them. To be honest, I though it was really lame to wear a big orange whistle around my neck on vacation, but I understand now why it was necessary. Make sure your child knows to only blow the whistle in an emergency. If your child gets lost, he or she should sit down and blow the whistle long and loud until someone comes to get them.

Sources vary on whether or not it is wise to have your child blow the whistle if they see a bear. Some say (and I was always told) that blowing the whistle or yelling, or making other loud noises will scare the bear away from you. Others say that the loud or sudden noise may infuriate the bear into attacking. I would personally tell my child to blow the whistle, if it doesn't scare the bear away I guess I would at the very least be alerted and have the chance to throw myself between my child and the bear.

In general if you are planning to spend any outdoor time in bear country I encourage you to do your own research! Plan ahead to find solutions to fit your specific situation, and make sure you know at least a little bit about all of the animals you may encounter on your adventures.

For more information about bear safety:

BC Parks

Canada Trails

Ursus International

Be Bear Aware Colouring Book (PDF) - This one is directed to children who live in the Yukon, but has valuable information that every kid should know. It's pretty blunt in some areas so reading through it before you print is best to make sure it will not scare your child. My personal favourite parts are the bear bums and human bums, the dead cartoon moose with X's for eyes, and the part where they tell children not to play near garbage dumps. . . Do many children in the Yukon play in garbage dumps?

1 comment:

dk said...

the pics of Olly from the swap are on my crackbook