Stay safe in bear country

  1. What to do if you encounter a bear
  2. Keep your property bear safe
  3. Safe roadside bear viewing
  4. Bear safety in the Yukon outdoors
  5. ​Bear safety for industrial activity in the backcountry
  6. ​Bear deterrents

​Stay safe in Yukon's bear country. Keep your property bear safe, minimize bear attractants, learn what to do if you encounter a bear, and find bear safety tips for Yukon outdoor and industrial activities.​

  1. What to do if you encounter a bear

    Bear encounters rarely result in an attack. Remaining calm is the most important thing to do.

    If you come across a bear that is not aware of your presence

    • Try to move away without getting its attention. Watch for any change in its behaviour.
    • Make a wide detour and try to leave undetected.
    • If you see young bears on the ground or in a tree, or you hear bear vocalizations, be extremely cautious and go back the way you came as quietly as possible.

    When you encounter a bear that already knows you are there

    • Group together if there are other people present.
    • Speak calmly but firmly to the bear.
    • If the bear is staying still, back away slowly but don’t run as this could trigger a chase. Avoid sudden movements and keep an eye on the bear. Leave the area.
    • A bear’s usual response to detecting a person is to move away. Let it leave. If you must proceed, do so cautiously, making noise as you go.

    If the bear starts to approach

    If the bear takes a defensive approach it will appear stressed or agitated and may start growling:

    • Try to appear non-threatening.
    • Talk in a calm voice.
    • When the bear stops advancing, slowly move away.
    • If it keeps coming closer, stand your ground, keep talking and use your deterrent.
    • Use bear spray only when the bear is within 10 metres (20 to 30 feet) of you. Between 4 to 6 metres is optimal, depending on the wind. Adjust your angle for wind direction and deliver the spray in 2 to 3 second bursts.
    • If the defensive bear attacks, fall on the ground and play dead.
    • When the attack stops, lie still and wait for the bear to leave.

     

    In a non-defensive approach the bear will be intent on you with head and ears up:

    • Talk in a firm voice.
    • Move out of the bear’s path.
    • If it follows you, stop and stand your ground. Shout and act aggressively. Try to intimidate the bear and use your deterrent.
    • If it attacks, fight for your life! Use any weapon within reach. At this point, you’re dealing with a predatory bear intent on eating you. Be as aggressive as possible, concentrating on the bear’s face, eyes and nose.

     

    For more information on what to do if you encounter a bear, see the How you can stay safe in bear country brochure. It is also available in French and German.

  2. Keep your property bear safe

    A bear’s sense of smell is 2,000 times better than a human’s, and even 20 times better than a dog’s. Bears are attracted to things that smell, including pet waste and fuel. When you evaluate your home, yard or camp for bear foods, think in terms of what might attract them to you, not necessarily what they can eat.

    Bears that are conditioned to human sources of food can be dangerous. Conservation officers may capture, relocate or put down bears that associate people with food.

    Common bear attractants

    • Garbage, compost and recycling
    • Fruit trees and berry bushes
    • Bird feeders and bird seed
    • Domestic pets and pet food
    • Barbecues, freezers, fish nets, dryers and smokers
    • Backyard poultry and other livestock and their feed
    • Citronella, hot tub covers, insulation and petroleum products
    • Gardens

    Minimize bear attractants on your property

    The best way to keep bears away is to make sure attractants are properly stored and secured. Use these recommendations to audit your property for bear safety.

    Garbage and compost

    • Store garbage in cans with tight-fitting locking lids.
    • If you have garbage collection, put out your garbage the morning of collection day, not the night before.
    • If you don't have garbage collection, take your garbage to the dump at least once a week.
    • Regularly sprinkle lime or wood stove ash on your compost pile to keep odours down.
    • Collect pet waste from your yard at least once a week and dispose of it correctly. This means it is double-bagged and put out with garbage.
    • Ensure you are getting a complete burn using the incinerator or burn barrel in your camp or claim.
    • Ensure jerry cans of gas and diesel, and containers of waste oil, are well-sealed and stored in a secure area. For example, in a locked metal shed).

    Food residue and odours

    • Burn food residue off your barbecue and clean the grease trap after every use.
    • Cover your barbecue to reduce odour spread.
    • Store your fish or wild meat indoors immediately after it has dried in your meat shed.
    • Clean your meat shed immediately after drying fish or wild meat.

    Pets and animals

    • Empty your bird feeders in spring and summer.
    • Feed your pets indoors; store their pet food and dishes indoors too.
    • Store fish waste fertilizer in air-tight containers indoors or in a secure area. For example, in a locked metal shed.

    If you don't follow all of these recommendations, your property is at risk of attracting a bear.

    For more information about keeping your property bear safe, see the Bear Attractant audit, available in English and French. You can also refer to the Keeping Dawson City bears wild and alive brochure.

    Electric fencing can be an effective tool for keeping bears away from your chicken coops, beehives, storage sheds and gardens. See Reducing Wildlife Conflict with Electric Fencing: A Beginner’s Guide for practical information on installing electric fencing.

    To report human-bear conflict, call the TIPP line toll-free 1-800-661-0525 or file an online report.

  3. Safe roadside bear viewing

    The bears you see along roadways are usually digging up roots or eating grasses or other plants that make up 90% of a Yukon bear's diet.

    If you see a bear while driving, consider not stopping. If you must stop, first check for traffic behind you. Slow down and pull over only when and where it’s safe. Don’t stop in the middle of the road, or close to a hill or curve. Avoid creating a “bear jam” by:

    • Staying in your vehicle.
    • Remaining a respectful distance from the bear. Under no circumstances attempt to approach or communicate with the bear.
    • Never feeding a bear.

     

    If the bear retreats or seems to ignore you then it is safe for you to take pictures, watch for a minute, and then move on. Watching for only a minute will prevent the bear from becoming habituated to your presence.

    If the bear approaches your vehicle leave immediately. This bear may be conditioned to being around people and could be dangerous. Depending on how aggressive the bear was, report the incident to conservation officers using the TIPP line toll-free at 1-800-661-0525.

  4. Bear safety in the Yukon outdoors

    Enjoying the Yukon outdoors means being in bear country. Whether you're hiking or fishing, camping or hunting, it's important to know how to prevent and handle bear encounters.

    Walking, hiking and biking

    • Always carry bear spray in an easy-to-access location, such as a holster.
    • Choose routes with good visibility where possible.
    • Avoid hiking or biking alone.
    • Stay alert. Keep an eye out for bears so you can give them plenty of room. Look for recent bear signs such as tracks, scat, fresh diggings or tree scratches. If you see any of these, be especially cautious.
    • Make noise to let bears know you’re coming, especially in thick brush, berry patches or near running water.
    • Loud talking or singing is better than using bells.
    • Pay attention to wind direction. If you are travelling into the wind, a bear may not be able to smell you.
    • Don’t approach a bear for a closer look or better photo. Use binoculars or a telephoto lens.

    Camping

    • Keep bear spray handy, not tucked away in a backpack or vehicle.
    • Choose a campsite well away from wildlife trails, spawning streams, signs of recent bear activity, and bear foods such as berry patches.
    • Keep your camp clean. Don’t leave food and garbage sitting out, whether you’re in a wilderness setting or a roadside campground.
    • Don’t bring greasy, smelly foods like bacon and canned fish.
    • In the backcountry, store and cook food well away from your campsite, downwind if possible.
    • In a roadside campground, store food in your vehicle or RV. A cooler is not bear proof.
    • Where bear-proof storage containers are not available, hang food and attractants 4 metres (13 feet) off the ground between trees.
    • Garbage should be stored in bear-resistant and odour-proof containers and packed out. As a secondary option in the backcountry, always burn your garbage thoroughly.
    • In a roadside campground, use the bear-proof garbage cans provided.

    Fishing

    The chances of encountering a bear increase when you're near an active fish spawning area, especially a salmon-bearing stream. Anglers should take the same general precautions as hikers, bikers and campers, as well as safety measures specific to fishing.

    • Keep bear spray handy at all times.
    • Don't camp on the shore of a spawning stream.
    • If you have a vehicle nearby, keep your fish cooler in it.
    • Fish with a friend.
    • If you’re on shore, make some noise, especially if your visibility is limited.
    • Gut your fish at the shoreline, not at your campsite.
    • Put the guts in the water; fast-moving water if possible. Pop the air bladder so the guts will sink.
    • Try not to get fish odours on your clothes.
    • Wash your hands, knife and cutting board after cleaning the fish.
    • Cut the line if you're fighting a fish. The splashing may attract the bear.

    Hunting

    The presence of meat and carcasses can increase the risk of bear encounters. Hunters should take the same general precautions as hikers, bikers and campers, as well as safety measures specific to kill sites.

    At the kill site:

    • Stay alert while field dressing your animal. Look around and listen.
    • Keep bear spray and a firearm within easy reach.
    • Take all the meat out in one trip if possible. If not, return to the site as soon as you can.
    • Separate the meat pile from the gut pile if you have to leave the site.
    • Leave your odor on or near the meat pile. Urinate around it or leave your shirt or jacket.
    • Mark the kill site with lots of surveyor's tape tied so it flaps in the breeze. Remove the tape when you leave the site.

     

    Returning to the kill site:

    • Carry bear spray and at least one rifle in your group when returning to the site.
    • If possible, approach the site from higher ground to give yourself a long-distance view.
    • Make noise as you approach the site.
    • Approach from upwind if you can.
    • If a bear is present, noise and gunshots may scare it away. Please remember, you are not allowed to kill a bear to protect your meat.
    • Shoot the bear only as a last resort.

     

    For more information see the How you can stay safe in bear country brochure. It is also available in French and German.

  5. ​Bear safety for industrial activity in the backcountry

    It's possible to have a successful camp operation where your camp crew and bears can safely share the landscape. Make sure your industrial camp is properly located, designed, and maintained and that your activities take bears into account.

    Industrial activity can affect bear populations. These activities can:

    • alienate bears from important habitats;
    • increase the amount of energy bears need to expend; and
    • cause injury or death.

    The following guidelines have been developed for mineral exploration, placer mining, and oil and gas industries. These guidelines are not exhaustive. Please see Guidelines for Industrial Activity in Bear Country and the Proponent's Guide: Assessing and Mitigating the Risk of Human-Bear Encounters for more details.

    Avoid bear habitat when possible

    • Do not locate camps or work in areas that may be frequented by bears.
    • Consult with the district conservation officer about possible locations before establishing camp.
    • Camps should be at least 30 m from the high water mark. Avoid riparian areas.
    • Do not set up camps near dumps or camps or sites with previous bear problems. Bears are known to return to sites on an annual basis.
    • Avoid habitats rich in bear foods like horsetails and berry patches and salmon spawning areas.
    • Avoid areas with recent bear signs like scat, tracks, rub tress, diggings, game trails or feeding activity.     
    • Avoid noisy areas near rushing water. Bears can't hear you coming.
    • Restrict all activities, including camp location, to at least 1 km from a suspected or confirmed bear den site.

    Educate and protect employees

    • Provide your employees with bear-awareness training and proper use, transport and storage of bear spray.
    • Bear spray should be easily accessible at all times, not tucked away in a pack.
    • All camp and field personnel should be familiar with preventative measures and dealing with close range bear-human encounters, which are outlined in the videos Staying Safe in Bear Country and Working in Bear Country, and in the booklet How you can stay safe in bear country.
    • Learn about bear behaviour and how to recognize common bear foods and habitats.
    • Ensure employees never feed bears or other wildlife. The presence of other scavengers will attract bears.

    Install electric fencing around camp

    Electric fencing around all camp facilities is an effective method for keeping bears out of camps and is strongly recommended.

    • A solar panel battery storage system or generator is needed to power the fence.
    • Electric fences are relatively affordable and cost between $500 and $5000. They take between a few hours to few days to install, depending on the size of camp.
    • Portable electric fences are ideal for short-term camps.
    • High-tensile electric fences are ideal for longer-term or permanent camps.
    • Practice regular maintenance and testing of your electric fence including removing vegetation or other materials that might touch the wires and ground the fence’s electrical charge.
    • See Reducing Wildlife Conflict with Electric Fencing: A Beginner’s Guide.

    Proper camp design

    • Give adequate space for the camp within the electric fence.
    • Arrange tents or trailers in a line rather than a circle; they should be well spaced but not scattered.
    • Install windows at entrances and exits of tents and trailers to increase visibility to the exterior.
    • Clear brush from trails leading to and from buildings and tents to improve visibility and ensure line of sight.
    • Locate the cook tent, food storage area and latrine in open spots at least 50 metres or more from sleeping quarters.
    • Locate the cook tent down-wind from sleeping quarters if possible. Use the prevailing wind.
    • Keep the garbage disposal area and burning vessel visible from a distance, downwind from camp and at least 200 metres from sleeping areas.
    • Ensure all activity areas are well lit, if possible.

    Food storage and cooking

    • For large amounts of food use metal food storage lockers with latches, locking fridges or freezers, bear-proof garbage containers, bear-proof shed, steel shipping containers or steel drums with locking lids.
    • For small amounts of food use bear-resistant canisters. Hang food 3 metres above ground and 1.5 metres from a vertical support. Ensure lunches and drinks for field crews are packed in airtight containers and ensure all garbage is packed back.
    • Cook with adequate ventilation, and ensure kitchen areas are kept clean.
    • Re-use or completely burn all grease and oils in a burning vessel or incinerator.
    • Strain food particles from dishwater and dispose of with the garbage.
    • Do not allow food or cooking in sleeping tents.

    Use bear deterrents at camp

    • Noise deterrents include air horns, bear bangers, cracker shells or firearm warning shots.
    • Bear bangers should be aimed to discharge between you and the bear for the greatest chance that the bear runs away. Keep in mind there is a fire risk when using bear bangers.
    • Non-lethal firearm projectiles such as bean bags and rubber bullets may also be used with a 12-gauge shot gun.
    • Crews should be trained and practiced in the proper use of noise and non-lethal deterrents and they should be accessible at all times.
    • Well-trained bear dogs are useful for detecting and deterring bears.
    • In limited circumstances, a helicopter may be used to protect life and property. Be aware that improper use of helicopters to haze wildlife may be perceived as harassment under the Wildlife Act.

     

    If the bear is an immediate threat to life and all practical means of averting the threat have failed, killing the animal may be necessary. Shooting a bear is the last resort and should only be for the immediate protection of life and property. Ensure that at least one crew member has current firearms safety training including proficient use of firearms.

    If a bear is killed in defense of life or property, you are legally required to report the incident to a conservation officer as soon as possible. The entire carcass must be left intact. Do not remove any parts of the bear including claws, gall bladder etc. The conservation officer will provide further instructions.

    Waste disposal

    Your permits will set out burning, incineration and garbage disposal requirements for your size of camp:

    • Yukon burn barrels are sufficient for smaller camps. These are 45-gallon barrels with a suspended basket, lid, venting hole, and spark-arresting chimney.
    • Use of a commercially-designed forced air, fuel-fired incinerator is required for larger operations.
    • Do not bury food waste. This is ineffective as bears have a keen sense of smell and are known to dig pits up to 2 metres deep to gain access to garbage.
    • Do not burn food waste in open pits or drums as it produces hazardous emissions that may be harmful to people and the environment, and does not eliminate bear attractants.
    • Use a burning vessel or incinerator to generate the high temperatures needed to reduce smoke emissions, contaminants and bear attractants.
    • Incinerate all combustible and odorous kitchen waste after every meal. Do not temporarily store garbage outside. Remove incinerated residue from site using supply backhauls if possible.
    • Assign a full-time staff member to garbage management if your camp has more than 3 people. Tasks should include incinerating, maintaining the incinerator, scheduling garbage pick-up, and maintaining a clean camp.
    • Ensure that an inventory of spare parts for your burning vessel or incinerator is on hand so that equipment failure does not result in an accumulation of food waste.
    • Treat latrine facilities with lime and cover with earth on a regular basis.

    Report visiting bears

    If a bear repeatedly visits your camp, or exhibits curious or aggressive behaviour towards your crew members, contact the district conservation officer immediately.

    District conservation officers

    Whitehorse: 867-667-5221

    Watson Lake: 867-536-7363

    Mayo: 867-996-2202

    Ross River: 867-969-2202

    Teslin: 867-390-2685

    Dawson: 867-993-5492

    Haines Junction: 867-634-2247

    Old Crow: 867-966-3040

    Faro: 867-994-2862

    Decisions regarding the appropriate action should be left up to the conservation officer. Options include deterrence, removal of attractants, or relocation or destruction of the bear, depending on the circumstance.

  6. ​Bear deterrents

    There are a number of tools that can help you deter a bear including:

    • bear spray;
    • non-lethal projectiles;
    • a variety of noisemakers like air horns or bear bangers; and
    • electric fencing.

     

    Used properly, deterrents can be helpful, but they are not 100 per cent effective. Make sure you’re familiar with their use before you need them. And don’t let deterrents give you a false sense of security.

    Bear spray

    Bear spray should only be used at close range on an aggressive or attacking bear. Carry it ready to use, not in your pack. Before using it, ensure the nozzle is pointed away from you. Exercise caution, if discharged upwind or in a confined space, bear spray can affect or, in extreme cases, disable the user.

    Even in your tent, keep bear spray close at hand.

    Note: Bear spray should not be applied to property as a preventative measure.

    Non-lethal projectiles

    Use of a 12-gauge shotgun gives you the option to use non-lethal projectiles that are designed to hurt the bear, but not to kill it.

    As with standard ammunition, you should be familiar with proper use.

    Firearms

    If you intend to carry a firearm, make sure it is adequate. It should be a 30 caliber or larger or a 12-gauge shotgun with rifled slugs. Practice until you can shoot quickly and accurately under stress and at close range.

    If you use a firearm to stop a bear attack, aim to kill. Wounding a bear can make the situation much worse.

    Firearms should only be used as a last resort in a life-threatening situation. If a bear is killed in defense of life or property, you are legally required to report the incident to a conservation officer as soon as possible. The entire carcass must be left intact. Do not remove any parts of the bear. This includes claws, gall bladder etc. The conservation officer will provide further instructions.

    Note: Bear spray, firearms and explosive-type deterrents have regulations governing their transport and use. Consult with local authorities about what is allowed in your area.

    Electric fencing

    See Reducing Wildlife Conflict with Electric Fencing: A Beginner’s Guide for practical information on installing electric fencing.