Basic Knowledge Required for Certification as an Apprentice Bear Naturalist Guide

Even an Apprentice guide should master this material before starting to guide viewers, or as soon as possible thereafter.  An
Apprentice certificate qualifies a person to guide from an observatory where people cannot be touched by a bear.  An apprentice guide
should be able to answer questions commonly asked by clients and to keep them informed, entertained, comfortable, and safe while
traveling by vehicle.  Assuring client safety from bears should be the responsibility of guides with more experience and  training --
preferably ones certified as Professional or Master Guides by the Bear Viewing Association.

Guide Responsibilities

Protocols at a lodge in bear habitat
  • Priorities      
  • Problem bears or problem people?
  • Don't attract bears onto lodge grounds -- bears go where the food is.
  • Storing bear attractants
  • Grey water
  • Sewage and outhouses
  • Food conditioning vs. attractant conditioning
  • Habituation vs. acclimation
  • Securing buildings so that bears don’t enter them
  • Exiting buildings
  • On lodge grounds: keeping an eye out for bears
  • Notifying other staff when there is a bear on lodge grounds
  • Handling encounters
  • Your credibility with clients

BVA’s Ten Golden Rules of Bear Viewing

Sources of information supplementing this website

Guide responsibilities:  

Earning an Apprentice guide certificate attests  that the candidate has mastered sufficient knowledge to begin on-
the-job training towards becoming a Professional guide, and meanwhile to fulfill the following responsibilities.

Safety assistant:  The Apprentice has learned the bear safety information in the following webpages and other
materials provided to help the Apprentice minimize his/her own risk, and to answer client questions on the specific
points.  However,
an Apprentice should not be assumed to be able to keep clients safe during a bear

  • where the clients cannot be physically harmed by a bear (e.g., in an observatory -- e.g.,  vehicle, building, or
    elevated platform): the Apprentice is qualified to work without direct supervision by a Professional or
    Master guide while assisting clients to view bears and other natural history features, or while educating
    viewers about basic bear safety and natural history, or while transporting clients, or other duties.

  • where it would be physically possible for a bear to contact a client:  the Apprentice is qualified to assist a
    Professional or Master Guide while in the presence of the Professional or Master Guide.  

Conservationist:  Protecting bears, other wildlife, and their ecosystems so that the resource will remain self-
sustaining for the foreseeable future.

Host: assuring the comfort and enjoyment of clients; providing them the best viewing opportunities you can,
commensurate with safety and conservation.  Before going into the field, you will want to think ahead about their
likely needs (e.g., something to sit on, snacks, water, toilet paper, a poncho to wear while eliminating bodily wastes,
etc.  It also good to ask them whether they have adequate charged batteries, rain gear, bug dope, sun screen, etc.

Educator: providing your clients with information they need or request about safety and natural history.  BVA has
prepared a list of
questions commonly asked by clients concerning bear safety, bear ecology, bear life cycles and
bear identification.  You are responsible for being able to answer them correctly.  Answers to those questions can
be found by clicking on the corresponding tab at the top of this page, and in other
educational materials we provide,
including two books:
Beauty Within the Beast, and Ghost Grizzlies and Other Rare Bruins.   

When you provide information, be as accurate and objective as possible.  You can recommend books, magazine
articles, videos, and websites to clients in accordance with their interests.

Controversial topics:  Clients sometimes ask questions about highly controversial issues.  In Alaska, some of the
most controversial include climate change and predator control.  Your job as a guide is not to argue pro or con any
of these issues.  If asked, politely inform clients that your employer doesn't want predator control or climate change
to ruin bear viewing opportunities.  But beyond that, anything you say about these issues doesn't represent a
position taken by your employer, unless your employer tells you otherwise.  

Be prepared to explain both sides of the issue.  For arguments in favor of wide scale, permanent extermination of
predators, consult the Alaska Department of Fish & Game website under the topic "Intensive Management."   For
arguments against, consult the  "Conservation Challenges" chapter of this training manual.  It has links to Bear
Viewing Association articles on the topic.  BVA is not against surgical, temporary reduction in the numbers of wolves
or bears where benefits outweigh costs.  But we are against  widespread permanent extermination of most wolves
and bears in Alaska, especially at sites where costs dramatically outweigh benefits -- such as destroying
opportunities for people to watch bears.  

If a client wants to express an opinion, encourage this, so long as the statement doesn't take more than a couple of
minutes.  Then ask other clients their thoughts on the issue.  If the discussion becomes at all heated, or anyone is
monopolizing the conversation switch topics -- for instance by pointing out something about the wildlife or country
around you.

Again, although our suggested answers to frequently-asked viewer questions are presented "textbook" style, the
way you directly answer clients should be much more entertaining.  Before you ever leave home, work out ways to
do that, for instance by linking each point to an interesting story -- perhaps one  that you learn from one of the
books listed at the bottom of this page.

Employee:  Whether you are employed by a government agency, a business, an NGO, or self-employed, you
should operate in a manner which assures your employer's success.
Protocols at a Lodge in Bear Habitat

o  Keeping people safe
o  Keeping bears safe
o  Protecting property against damage by bears
o  Client enjoyment
o  Client comfort
o  Smooth working relations among Lodge employees
o  Smooth working relationships with business partners (e.g., air taxi pilots)
o  Good maintenance of Lodge facilities and equipment

Client Enjoyment
There might be days when bears are present as soon as you arrive at a viewing site.  The bears may remain
throughout the tour, or they may disappear before it is over.  There might also be days when no bears are present
initially, and perhaps some days when no bear shows up.  Your clients will have paid a lot of money to see bears
and some could become bitterly disappointed.  

When that happens, you need to be prepared to keep your clients happy in other ways.  Your first option is trying to
find other wildlife -- for instance moose or beaver or eagles -- that they can watch.  Your second option is showing
them "spoor" left by wildlife, such as animal tracks, an eagle nest, a beaver lodge, or a spot where beaver have dug
soil or cut branches.  You third option is keeping them entertained with video footage or talking with them.  

For clients interested in bear science, be prepared with answers to all the commonly-asked questions listed below.  

For clients who prefer hearing true life stories, learn enough stories to occupy up to three hours.  You can learn
them from books such as those listed at the bottom of this page.  

When you tell people about bear science, you can draw upon the information this website provides about bear
safety, identification, ecology, life-cycles, and conservation challenges.  But don't deliver a lecture.  Try to link each
point to a story of someone's experiences with bears.  Personalize the information.  Convey a sense of fascination
and excitement that clients can share.  

Another good tactic is telling jokes.  Before you start this job, read books or websites of jokes.  Learn dozens.  No,
you shouldn't try to be a standup comic telling one joke after another.  But you should be able to throw one out now
and then.  Make sure that any joke you tell is appropriate -- nothing sexy, sexist, racist, political or ....  A good
source of ideas for creating jokes are the old Gary Larson cartoons and more recent cartoons by Alaska's own
Chad Carpenter.  Chad has published several books of cartoons on Alaska themes, mostly dealing with wildlife.

In the final analysis, of course, everyone's favorite topic is themselves.  Ask questions to draw people out.  Start with
their interest in bears and other wildlife so that whatever stories they tell are likely to interest other clients.  Keep
switching among clients so that everyone has a chance to share.  If someone is especially shy, encourage
comments by this person.  Your manner should assure them that you are interested in what they have to say, or that
no one will criticize them.  Keep the conversation positive and friendly.

Problem bears or problem people?
o  So long as people behave properly in bear habitat and near bears, bears tend to be polite, cooperative, good

o  People who don’t follow proper procedures – such as the protocols in this manual -- can alter bear behavior and
change them
into nuisances. Examples include:
  • Luring bears into the Lodge
  • Failure to secure attractants (e.g., garbage) in containers that bears can’t penetrate.
  • Food conditioning bears
  • Habituating (rather than acclimating) them to people.
  • Being too aggressive towards bears that enter Lodge grounds
  • Being too timid towards bears that enter Lodge grounds
  • Carelessly exiting buildings
  • Failing to alert other employees and perhaps guests when a bear is sighted on Lodge grounds.

Don’t attract bears onto Lodge grounds
time searching for food.  They are also highly curious.   They will seek out the source of anything that smells like
high quality food or that is quite novel – even something like aviation fuel or diesel fuel.

Storing bear attractants
o  Edibles:  All kinds of food that people eat, all garbage, and all food cans, boxes and wrappers should be stored
inside a building or outdoors in a bear-proof container.  The ideal container is one that minimizes release of odors
that could attract a bear.  If the lodge has an outdoor freezer (e.g., on a porch or in a shed), this should be kept
latched or better yet locked, given that bears can easily learn to open most latches.  Bears have been known to
empty out freezers, just snacking as they explore its contents.  What they don’t eat is left on the ground or floor to
thaw and rot.

o  I
nedible substances:  Although petroleum-based oils are inedible and sometimes toxic, they can still be
attractive to bears.  Bears will chew on and sometimes ingest engine oil, diesel fuel, gasoline, axle grease, hydraulic
fluid, or plastic.  This can make bears sick, and it can damage valuable machinery or tools.  Indeed, plastic gas cans
left in boats are a common target of bears.  When dogs or humans ingest engine antifreeze, they die in agony.  The
same would likely be true for bears.  Bears have also been known to get high sniffing aviation fuel or kerosene, and
perhaps spray paint.  Boat seat cushions covered in plastic and perhaps padded with plastic foam are also targeted
by bears.  All such items and substances should be stored as securely as edibles.

o  L
arger plastic items such as canoes and kayaks should be stored where they are usually within sight of
someone, so that a bear can’t do significant damage before being detected and shooed away.

Grey water:  Some Lodges are built without a septic tank.  Drainage from kitchen and bathroom sinks is allowed to
settle in a pit from which it slowly sinks into the soil.  Such pits should be covered so that their odors don’t waft into
the air where they could attract a bear.  Although a bear is likely to lose interest when it discovers the grey water
contains little or nothing edible, it could then focus on something which it could damage or which would be more

Sewage and outhouses:  Bears are sometimes attracted by the scent of sewage.  If the lodge has an outhouse, its
door should be kept tightly shut at all times.  Imagine a client’s shock upon opening an outhouse door and finding
him/herself face to face with a bear or two.  It has happened!  

Food conditioning vs. Attractant conditioning
o  Food conditioning is one kind of attractant conditioning, just as food is one kind of attractant.

o  If a bear enters Lodge grounds and finds something tasty to eat, it is likely to return again and again for refills.  
Habitual foraging on human-source foods is called “food conditioning.” Conditioning refers to reward-based

o  Bears can also visit habitually to enjoy other attractants such as odors that they like to roll in (e.g. some
petroleum products) or even sniff.  On the Kamchatka Peninsula of Siberia, some bears – like some humans -- have
become addicted to sniffing aviation fuel.

Habituation vs. Acclimation
o  “Habituation” is a word with numerous meanings.  For our training purposes, it means enhanced trust for being
near people, without also have enhanced respect for humans.  By contrast, “acclimation” refers to simultaneous
enhancement of both trust and respect.

o  Trust reduces risk that a bear will try to violently protect itself or its cubs from any people the bear encounters –
the primary cause of serious or fatal attacks by grizzly/ brown bears.

o  Respect reduces risk that a bear will try to violently compete with a person or to kill the person as prey.

o Acclimation is a combination of high respect with high trust.  This combination minimizes risks of both defensive
and offensive aggression.

Securing buildings so that bears don’t enter them
o  Doors:  The door to each building should be kept closed at ALL times when someone is not passing in or out.  If
there is a screen door, the solid door might be left open for ventilation.  However, a screen door is at best a
psychological barrier, one that a bear can tear down with one swipe of its paw.  NEVER leave a building empty
without having all doors and windows closed securely.  Although any bear can quickly learn to open even a solid
door if has a lever-knob, few learn to open a round knob.  

Windows:  Each open window should be covered by a screen.  Ideally, windows should be so high off the ground
that a bear cannot see inside even when standing on its hind legs.  This is especially important for kitchen windows.  
An electrified pad may be needed to keep out an especially persistent bear.

Exiting buildings:  Whenever you exit a building, first open the door and look around to see whether a bear is
nearby.  If a bear has been hanging around, look out windows before opening the door.  You should NEVER
surprise a bear at close range.  It might give them (and you) nightmares.

On Lodge grounds:  While outdoors at a Lodge, always keep an eye out for bears.  Don’t let them surprise you.

Notifying other staff when there is a bear on Lodge grounds:  If you see a bear on Lodge grounds, calmly alert other
staff without
unnecessarily drawing the attention of guests to the bear.  One way of doing so would be to have bells
strategically spread around Lodge grounds.  Whenever a bear is present, someone could ring a bell to alert others.  
That should take no more than 30-60 seconds.  Once staff are aware that the bear is present and are prepared to
deal with it and with client responses to the bear, clients should be informed that the bear is present.  However, if
you don't have enough time to alert other staff before the bear could reach a guest, warn the guest first, in
accordance with suggestions listed below:

Handling encounters
o   If more experienced staff are nearby, follow their lead.  If the only staff present are no better qualified than you
are, each of you should quickly and calmly invite clients to join in groups of at least 6 people, all within an arm’s
length of one another.  

o  Your clients will likely be perfectly safe watching and photographing bears on Lodge grounds so long as they stay
in tight-knit groups.  Some bears don’t bother even lone individuals.  However, there are exceptions.

o  No one should touch a bear or allow it to touch them.  If the bear approaches someone to within 5 feet, you might
step forward to the side of the person, but closer to the bear than the guest is.  If the bear tries to come closer, you
might step between the bear and the guest.  A bear that sniffs a person is usually nervous doing so.  Once sniffing
is done, a nervous bear might suddenly swat or nip the person.  This is just a warning not to take liberties; but the
person receiving the warning (and bystanders) might panic, thinking that this was an attack.  Their agitation could, in
turn, panic the bear into violence.  Keeping both bears and people calm is essential.

o  Ideally, you should carry a can of pepper spray at all times while on Lodge grounds.  If you have one, make sure it
is handy.  Don’t make a big deal of that.  Keep the atmosphere enjoyable unless an emergency is pending.  It only
takes a few minutes to learn how to use spray.  Instructions should be provided at the Lodge.

o Aside from the above precautions, Guide I training does
not prepare you for dealing with a bear one-on-one,
whether on Lodge grounds or in the "wilds."  Nevertheless, the need might arise now and then.  In preparation for
that, you can read the
Alaska Magnum Bear Safety Manual – a text for Guide II certification.  It will give you a
headstart on getting your Guide II certificate and will help you do your job better as a Guide I.

o  If the bear does not find an attractant that it claims, and if has not already become food-conditioned and
habituated, it is
not likely to be aggressive on lodge grounds.  But “an ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure.”

Your credibiity with clients
o  Clients  will comply with your instructions only if they trust your expertise.  So make sure you develop the expertise and reveal it in low-
key ways, such as by remaining calm and decisive.

Client feelings
  • Assure that they feel safe.
  • Assure that the encounter is enjoyable and perhaps thrilling
Click here to read the
Apprentice Naturalist Guide
Certification Test
Certification fee $100
Apprentice Bear Naturalist Guide
Certification Manual
page 1

BVA’s Ten Golden Rules of Bear Viewing

Each Guide is expected to know all 10 rules

..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..
..8) Avoid tunnel vision and surprise encounters; be predictable.
..9) Don’t displace or crowd bears; don't trespass on their turf.
10) Be cooperative

Sources of Information
In this website:  

Supplementing this website

Required Reading

Recommended Reading  
Index of  Bear  Webpages
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
by Stephen F. Stringham (2011).  WildWatch Publications.  Soldotna,  AK

by Terry DeBruyn, Lyons Press.

by Charlie Russell & Maureen Enns.   Hutchinson, in association with Random House, Canada.
Click here to read the
Apprentice Naturalist Guide
Certification Test
Certification fee $100
To start studying about bear natural history and safety, click on one of the tabs below.  We recommend
below.  We recommend reading in the following order (which is also how the exam is organized
:   For additional
study materials, click
or on the following buttons.

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
(c) 2016 S. Stringham