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Bear Viewing Association
To watch, to wonder, and to conserve
Ph/Fax (907) 260-9059 (Office)
39200 Alma Ave.    Soldotna, AK  99669
bear viewing Alaska, bear photography, bear safety, bear behavior

Answers to questions commonly asked by wildlife viewers on the topics listed below:
Bear Viewing Association
To watch, to wonder, and to conserve
Ph/Fax (907) 260-9059 (Office)
39200 Alma Ave.    Soldotna, AK  99669
bear viewing Alaska, bear photography, bear safety, bear behavior
Operators and guides should strive to follow some minimum standards of safety, conservation, and client satisfaction.  The Ten Golden
Rules of Bear Viewing
summarize practices that can help achieve that goal under most circumstances.  If viewers and especially viewing
guides learn nothing else about viewing, they should learn by heart these "rules" – ten ways of “doing onto bears and to other viewers as
you would have them do onto you” so that you can enjoy watching bears hour after hour, day after day, year after year, with minimal risk to
yourself and negligible impact on the animals.  A brief explanation for each “rule” is provided on this page and the three that follow.  For
further details, read the BVA book
When Bears Whisper, Do You Listen? and view its companion video.

These “rules” coincide well with official "Best Practices" guidelines developed by the National Park Service, in cooperation with the Alaska
Dept. of Fish & Game in 2003.  Also involved in that project were several bear viewing guides (including myself) and other members of the
public. BVA's Ten Golden Rules also incorporate "Best Practices" guidelines by the Commercial Bear Viewing Association in British
Columbia, Canada, and the Bear Viewing Etiquette of the Kodiak Unified Bear Subcommittee.

Some of the most extreme and elementary precautions – such as viewing only from a secure location or with the assistance of an expert
guide — are aimed at novice viewers.  Such precautions can be relaxed to the extent that you master more advanced techniques — which
may take hundreds of hours of experience viewing bears at photographic range, including scores of close encounters.  Preferably, get
training from a bear behavior expert.  Without that level of expertise, you might be ill-equipped to consistently make sound judgments about
which precautions can be relaxed, as well as when and how.  The issue is not whether you or someone else can occasionally get away with
breaking rules.  After all, people survive even Russian Roulette.  But we don’t count on it.  The more often and more blatantly rules are
violated, the sooner someone will suffer the consequences.  The life you jeopardize could be your own, that of a client, or of someone you
love – just as Tim Treadwell’s errors led to the death of his fiancé.
Learn as much as you can about bear behavior before starting to view them when you are not in the company of a BVA-certified
Professional or Master bear viewing guide.  Self-guided viewers should get advice from local professionals concerning accepted bear
viewing behavior.

Spur of the Moment Viewing

If you chance upon a bear, for instance while driving or hiking for some other purpose, be wary about viewing the bruin.  Do not approach
the bear on foot unless conditions allow this at low risk and you are carrying at least minimum supplies and safety equipment, such as a
cell phone and bear-deterrent pepper spray.  If you make a habit of carrying everything you need for safe viewing, seizing chance
opportunities won’t put you in excessive danger.  

Planned Viewing

Likelihood of successful viewing is maximized if you prepare carefully before entering bear country.  The “Don’t leave home without it”
guidelines for viewing don’t include a Mastercard.  But they do include facts about the kinds and levels of risk you face, and how you can
keep those risks down to an acceptable level. Unless you will be viewing with the assistance of an expert in bear safety, you should master
key techniques.  A good place to start is by asking and answering each of the following questions – with the help of this online manual and  
BVA books (*
Bear Viewing in Alaska, * When Bears Whisper, Do You Listen?, The Language of Bears, * Bear Aggression) and their
companion videos.  Always carry a deterrent such as
bear pepper spray; marine flares can work if wildfire danger is negligible.

..1. Where do I expect to view bears? Will I try to exploit chance encounters, for instance while driving through Denali or Yellowstone
National Parks? Am I aiming at a particular site (e.g., Geographic Harbor at Katmai National Park on the Alaska Peninsula)?

..2. Will I be secure in a vehicle or a bear-proof observatory; or will I be exposed to bears?  Will I be where bears expect to encounter
people?  Or will I be wandering freely through habitat where surprise encounters are likely?  Are these bears typically tolerant of
people nearby, or are they terrified of humans?

..3. Which species live in the areas I’ll visit – grizzly/brown bears, black bears, or polar bears?  Which am I likely to encounter?
How can I tell them apart?  
Bear IDs

..4. How dangerous are bears?  How does risk vary between species?  What other factors govern risk?  How can I cope with
each factor?

..5. What clothing, equipment and supplies would I need to assure comfortable, successful, low risk, low impact viewing? I know
the kinds of clothing I need to cope with weather extremes.  But what constraints on clothing are imposed by viewing conditions?

..6. What quality of photo equipment do I need tin order to capture the quality of images I want, under the conditions where viewing
occurs?  For example, how powerful a lens would I need? (That, of course, depends on how close you can get to the bears with minimal
risk and impact.)

..7. Will I be trying to watch bears alone or with companions?  How many companions?  Will the group have a leader?  How much
expertise in bear safety does the leader or anyone else in the group have?  How much can I depend on their expertise, and
how much should I rely on myself?

..8. If I end up hiking through bear habitat, what can I do to minimize risk of dangerous encounters?

..9. When encounters occur, what can I do to assure that the experience is mutually safe and preferably enjoyable?

10. If a bear becomes aggressive, how can I protect myself?  Should I carry any kind of deterrent (e.g., pepper spray) or firearm
with lethal ammunition?  How is each best used?

11. In case I get into trouble, what kinds of equipment are available or should I bring?  How can I summon assistance?  Will a cell
phone work in that area?  What about a satellite phone?  
Be prepared for encounters from the moment you enter bear habitat.  The place you disembark could be near a natural feeding site; or
bears might be waiting for people, hoping someone will treat them to snacks.  

At times and places that you
don’t want to watch bears, employ the AADD safety strategy.  Avoid bears where you can.  If you encounter a
bear that seems stressed, pushy, or threatening, try to
Appease the bear.  If appeasement fails to prevent or halt aggression, try to Deter
the bear, for instance by using bear-grade pepper spray or marine flares.   Failing that,
Destroy the bear.
Always remain inaccessible to polar bears.  Inaccessibility from grizzly/brown and black bears is most important in habitats where the
bears neither trust nor respect people, and where calorie-rich foods are scarcest — for instance in Interior Alaska, the Rocky Mountains,
or the Yukon and Northwest Territories of Canada. Such bears tend to be especially competitive and perhaps predatory toward hoofstock
(e.g., moose calves and caribou), and perhaps humans. On average, every 2 years, 1 person is killed and eaten by 1 of North America's
million black bears.  Much more common are minor bites or swats when someone who tries to touch them or feed a blackie by hand, or
when someone threatens them.  Predatory attacks by a blackie are most likely in interior Alaska and northern Canada.

You are least accessible if you arrive and leave by vehicle and never step outside while viewing.  You may also face little risk while viewing
from an improved observatory such as a tower.  Unimproved observatories are more risky.  Riskiest of all is roving freely across bear
habitat, bushwhacking where visibility is poor, where wind or water noises mask any sounds you make, and where bears don’t expect you.

While outside your vehicle, keep a door open for quick retreat; if the vehicle has high ground clearance, be prepared to duck under it.  If
tempted to leave your vehicle, be sure to stay within a few arms-lengths of at least half-a-dozen other people.
Roadside bears:  Leaving your vehicle to watch a bruin may be acceptably low risk so long as you don’t crowd it. Stay at least 50 yards
from a small black bear (left, by Dianne Owen), and 300 yards from an interior grizzly bear (at right, by Connie Harris) or a polar bear
(below, by Brad Josephs).
Inaccessibility from polar bears is always a good idea, irrespective of location. Polar bear tour bus and the mobile Tundra Buggy Lodge at
Cape Churchill, on Hudson Bay.  
Cont. >>>
Ten Golden Rules of Bear Viewing
Page   1     2     3     4    Study Guide
Ten Golden Rules of Bear Viewing
Page  1     2     3     4
..1) Be prepared.
..2) Avoid bears when and where you are not prepared to cope with them.
..3) View from a bear-proof location unless you can cope with encounters.
..4) Remain with at least five other people.
..5) View only trusting, respectful bears.
..6) Don’t smell or act like food; don’t compete with bears for food; don’t feed or touch them.
..7) Be wary, sensitive, cooperative and adaptable.
..9) Avoid tunnel vision and surprise encounters; be predictable.
.9  Don’t displace or crowd bears; don't trespass on their turf.
10) Be courteous and respectful; conserve the resource.
We suggest that you have the study guide in hand as your read through the Golden Rules.  This will help you retain the information and
to prepare for taking an exam if you want certification as a Professional guide .
(c) 2016 S. Stringham