certification from BVA, you will have to take a written test on the material and pay the processing fee.  Once that is done, BVA
will sent you a frameable certificate.  BVA's certification program is designed, in part, based on that of our sister organization,
the Commercial Bear Viewing Association of British Columbia.

Certification goals                 
Guide responsibilities
Levels of expertise: Apprentice, Assistant, Professional, Master
Grandfathered certification?

Certification Goals

Guide Education:  BVA gathers expert knowledge from guides and biologists about bears and their ecosystems, and about
guiding itself.  BVA then integrates that knowledge, and disseminates it through this website, as well as through books,
PowerPoints, CDs, DVDs, and other media.  Of course, we all have plenty to learn from each other.  So as knowledge within
our profession grows, the information disseminated by BVA will be updated.

This is a means of trying to help each guide master all the knowledge and skills needed for coping with the challenges the
guide is likely to face.  No one wants to end up in a situation that he/she can't cope with short of killing a bear, much less
having to rescue someone being mauled.  Nevertheless, there are situations where a guide must be prepared to deter or kill a
bear that bursts out of the brush without warning and tries to attack. Even more often, a guide needs to anticipate problems
and avoid them before they can begin.

Guide Recognition:  It is one thing have achieve expertise, and other thing to have that recognized by one's peers, one's
clients, and the public at large.  Many clients feel safer knowing that their guide is an expert, and more likely to trust the guide's
judgement during encounters that might otherwise become dangerous.  

Guide Competence and Protection from Predatory Litigation and Liability
Certification does not guarantee that a guide will know exactly how to handle every situation.  No one knows that, and even if
someone did, teaching it to others would be a long and demanding task.  

Nevertheless, enough has been learned to greatly increase the safety and enjoyment of viewers, while protecting the
resource.  lBVA's materials can help acquaint guides acquaint themselves with options for handling the most common
situations.  If a guide's expertise is ever questioned, the guide isn't left with no proof o fcompetence except his/her own claims,
or that of a colleague who might be suspected of bias.  Instead, a certified guide will have documentation of (a) having
mastered at least some minimum level of knowledge, and (b) become familiar with the highest standards of our profession,
which she/he has taken into account when making decisions in the field.  Anyone disagreeing with the guide would then have
the burden of proof of showing that better knowledge existed, and that the guide had not made a reasonable effort to stay
updated in his/her profession.  BVA's goal is finding those updates and making thom easily available to guides.

Guide responsibilities:  

1)  Rules, regulations & guidelines:
a.   Knowledge of any pertinent rules, regulations, or guidelines by any government agency, private property owner,
or other non-governmental entity with jurisdiction over the viewing site.

b.   Knowledge of BVA's  
Best Practices guidelines, including the Ten Golden Rules of Bear Viewing, as well as the
origins and justification for these guidelines.

 Wildlife safety:  Knowledge of the behavior of bears and other local wildlife that might pose a threat to any guide or
guest.  The guide should thus have the ability to normally:

Emergency avoidance and response:  In the event that the guide or a guest is injured or becomes ill, the guide should
normally be able to assure that appropriate first aid or other care will be provided to the extent feasible with available
resources.  For details, see
Risk Management

4.  Conservation:  Assure that you and your guests do not adversely affect long term welfare or view-ability of the wildlife.
Protect bears, other wildlife, and their ecosystems so that the resource will remain self-sustaining for the foreseeable future.
For guidance, study the Ten Golden Rules of Bear Viewing.  Also read opinions of other organizations and nature
photographers.  Two good places to start are:
https://www.naturescapes.net/articles/category/ethics/     and     

5.  Guest Education on Safety and Nature interpretation:  Sufficient knowledge of local wildlife and habitats, as well as
general knowledge in ecology, animal behavior, and wildlife management, to provide your guests with information they need or
request about safety and natural history.  Certain information has been identified as important to convey to each guest before
or during your viewing excursion.  This is covered under
Essential Guest Education.  For a list of questions frequently asked
by clients, and information with which to answer those questions, go to:
FAQs.  Information on additional natural history topics
is listed below. Just click on the appropriate heading to see webpages on the topic.   

Guides at any level of safety expertise can  earn an
endorsement in any of those additional aspects of natural history listed  

Local area:  Knowledge of the viewing site(s) and of the routes to and from those sites.  In some cases this includes
knowledge of sites for other activities such as eating, camping, fishing, viewing other wildlife, or photographing scenery.  

 Technical skills such as boat handling, vehicle handling skills on rough terrain, and radio commercial operator competency.

Host: assuring the safety, 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.
Guest Education.

 Social skills:  Ability to communicate with and develop friendly, cooperative relationships with other guides, fellow staff
members, employers and guests.  Ability to manage assistants and guests.  Diplomacy and tact are essential, as is the ability
to gently project sufficient authority and confidence that guests will normally cooperate with the guide, especially to prevent
or cope with emergencies.

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.

Nature Interpretation Endorsements

Guides at any level of safety expertise can also earn an endorsement in various aspects of natural history, including

Web pages on additional subjects will be added when demand warrants.

Levels of Expertise in Bear Safety

Guiding viewers while in an observatory (e.g., boat) that bears cannot access, requires little training beyond learning answers
to questions frequently asked by clients (FAQs).  At the other extreme is leading a group of viewers that might come face to
face with grizzlies that are habitually belligerent towards humans -- perhaps ones that have been hunted and/or harassed.  
Keeping the bear and the people both safe could challenge the skills of even the most expert guide.

Apprentice Bear Naturalist Guides    Certification exam

Apprenticeship certification is available for guides who will not be working in a situation that requires as much knowledge and
skill as is required for an Assistant guide.  Candidates should be certified
before beginning work as an Apprentice guide.  
Earning an Apprentice guide certificate attests  that the candidate has

*  learned all of the guide responsibilities listed above.

*  learned the BVA Best Practices guidelines, including the Ten Golden Rules of Bear Viewing,

and has sufficient knowledge to:

*  work solo educating viewers about bears, for instance while viewing bears from an observatory -- e.g.,  vehicle, building, or
elevated platform --
where people cannot be physically contacted by a bear; or to

*  assist an Assistant, Professional or Master Guide while in his/her presence, in situations where it would rarely be
physically possible for a bear to contact the Apprentice or a guest.  Although the Apprentice should be able to inform clients
about bear safety precautions (i.e., the knowledge required for becoming an Apprentice),
the Apprentice should not be
assumed to be able to keep clients safe during a bear encounter.
 The Apprentice should learn the information in BVA's books,
in other recommended books and videos, and on this website, in order to better serve guests and in preparation for earning an
Assistant certificate.  This includes learning enough safety skills for the Apprentice to minimize his/her own risk and to assist an
Assistant, Professional, or Master guide in an emergency.

Apprentice Guide
certification exam study guide now available.  When someone wants to take the test, they need to answer all
the Safety questions, and a selection of Natural History questions which we will choose at the time, so that each applicant has a
somewhat different selection.  Tests are taken "open book."

Click here for more information on becoming a Bear Naturalist Guide Apprentice.

Assistant Naturalist/Safety Guide  
Assistant guide certification is granted on the successful completion of a BVA Assistant guide training course. The foundation
of this course is a curriculum and training materials developed by Stephen Stringham, in cooperation with numerous other
guides and bear biologists.  When his Bears and Bear Safety course was taught through the University of Alaska, it took 2-3
days to complete.  An equal length could be expected now when the course is taught live.  But BVA is shifting the course to a
web-based format as much as possible.

The course materials include, but are not limited to: (a) the Alaska Magnum Bear Safety Manual,  (b) Ghost Grizzlies and Other
Rare Bruins (a manual soon to be on this website), (c) videos (soon to be available on this website or through Youtube), and
(d) webpages on this website.  This includes knowledge of BVA's Best Practices guidelines, including the Ten Golden Rules of
Bear Viewing.  

Individual companies and stakeholders can develop their own training programs that are appropriate to their type of operation
using this 2-3 day program and curriculum as a foundation and by using a BVA sanctioned instructor. Such training programs
must be evaluated and approved by the BVA Education and Certification Committee.

Professional Naturalist/Safety Guide (very low danger):  The Certification exam  will be posted by 1 June 2017
Certifies that the guide has met all requirements for certification as an Assistant guide, and has:

1.  Demonstrated competence in fulfilling all 10 guide responsibilities listed above.

2.  Mastered the knowledge and skills covered by three BVA texts
*  Ghost Grizzlies and Other Rare Bruins (soon to be posted on this website)
*  the Alaska Magnum Bear Safety Manual,
*  When Bears Whisper, Do You Listen?
*  Other training materials, including videos and webpages

3.  Completed one or both of the following routes to fulfilling other certification requirements:

Having served as an Assistant guide:
*  completed 60 days serving as an assistant to a BVA certified Professional or Master guide at sites where
bears are present..

*  while guiding and during the exam, has demonstrated sufficient competence to minimize risk to viewing clients
or other companions at bear viewing sites where the only bears that they are likely to encounter are acclimated to
viewers and generally remain calm during close encounters. (e.g., at Hallo Bay or Brooks Falls in Katmai National

In lieu of experience serving as an Assistant guide for 60 days:

4.  Candidates need to submit a cover letter, detailed logbook, and BVA evaluation and recommendation form (signed by a
certified Professional or Master guide) to the BVA Education and Certification Committee. Logbooks should outline relevant
experience including locations, dates, bear species, viewing method (boat-based vs land-based; fixed site vs roving; fixed
structure vs fixed location), and companies worked for.

5.  Other desirable qualifications include
a)    Demonstrated broad guiding experience (e.g., two or more species of bears, as well as other wildlife, employing a
variety of methods, at a variety of locations, under a variety of conditions).

b)   Demonstrated initiative to gain additional knowledge and experience about bear ecology and behavior.

Master Naturalist/Safety Guides are expected to be able to minimize risk to humans and disturbance of bears while
guiding in more challenging situations.  
Master Guide certification exam will be posted at a later time.

Master 1 (low danger)  Certifies that the guide has learned techniques for minimizing risk in situations where there is a high
chance of having repeated close encounters with brown or black bears that are sufficiently disturbed by such encounters to
respond by fleeing or/and with mild or moderate defensive threats (mild threats: jaw-popping, huffing; moderate threats:
swatting the ground or trees, or making hop charges)  – especially if the people are seen by the bear as threats to it, or as
competitors for food or other resources. This requires the same endorsements as for a Professional certificate, plus
endorsement in advanced bear safety and in advanced bear body language.

Master 2 (moderate danger) Certifies that the guide has learned techniques for guiding clients where there is a substantial
chance of repeated close encounters with non-acclimated brown or black bears – i.e., ones that are strongly disturbed by such
encounters.  These are bears that have a significant likelihood of injuring someone if the people do not behave appropriately.  
This is most common with brown bears on the Alaskan and British Columbian sea coast that have had little prior contact with
people or have been hunted, and with black bears in such isolated locations.  It also happens with grizzly bears which are
frequently viewed in or near Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, the Rockerfeller Memorial Parkway, and
Glacier National Park.

Master 3 (high danger) Certifies that the guide has learned techniques for guiding clients where there is a substantial chance
of close encounters with Interior grizzly bears anywhere in North America or with black bears (mainly in Interior Alaska and
northern Canada) that are violently disturbed by such encounters (e.g., in Rocky Mountain national parks).

Grandfathered Certification?
Why can't veteran guides be certified automatically based simply on prior experience?  Because the number of
years of experience doesn't reveal the breadth of experience.  It doesn't reveal which challenges the guide has had
to face or how she/he has coped with these challenges.  That's something that BVA can learn only by asking each
guide.   Where gaps are found, fellow guides can hopefully provide any needed insight, whether through
discussion, writing or shared time in the field with bears.  The certification process gives guides a chance to  share
their experiences with peers and obtain constructive feedback.  

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
a. anticipate and avoid sites and situations where the viewing group is likely to conflict with animals (e.g., not surprising
bears in dense vegetation where sight distance is under 50 yards).

b. anticipate or recognize when an animal’s response to other animals, other humans, or other circumstances could
cause it to approach one’s viewers too closely, or to threaten or attack someone (e.g., an animal might take refuge
beside or behind viewers to avoid an aggressive member of its own species or a predator).  The guide should then
normally be able to prevent or avoid the conflict from occurring, or to cope with those conflicts which cannot be
prevented or avoided.

c. recognize behavioral signs and signals by which the animals reveal their moods, motivations and intentions.  Ideally,
the guide should be able to recognize signals and signs of any adverse influence on the animal before that
adversity becomes severe.  For example, stress should be recognized before it causes the animal to disrupt or
cease any important behavior     (e.g., watching for danger from other animals; nursing offspring), much less before
the animal is so stressed that it withdraws from the area or threats or attacks anyone.  For example, is the animal:
•   Stressed
•   Signaling appeasement
•   Threatening defensively
•   Threatening offensively
•   Curious
•   Playful
•   Overtly ignoring you

d.  halt an animal from approaching too close to guests, without unduly stressing the animal, endangering anyone,
or impairing viewing opportunities.
a.  Basic First Aid and CPR

b.  Maintain awareness of the clients so that if someone becomes too hot, too chilled, or exhausted, or has another
health issue, that this can be dealt with expeditiously.  

c   Ability to carry out an emergency plan using available resources.

d.  Prior to onset of a viewing excursion where it would be possible for an animal to injure a guest, the guide should
inform the guests of how best to respond during an emergency – following the guide’s instructions during the
emergency if the guide has not been incapacitated; of following a suggested protocol in case the guide is
incapacitated (e.g., how to use bear pepper spray).   
a.   The guide should know where these are located, how they can be reached, and any hazards that might be
encountered (e.g., dangerous footing or areas where bears might be surprised at close range).  This typically
requires the ability to normally anticipate and avoid these hazards or to deal with them at minimal risk (e.g., while
crossing rivers on foot).  

b.   The guide should also be familiar with local resources, such as sources of water, firewood and shelter; landing sites
for boats or aircraft; sites where radio or sat phone reception is good vs. bad.   
•   At least 100 days of bear viewing guiding experience.

*   Passing the written portion of the Professional Guide exam.

•   A 1 to 2 day on-site evaluation of the applicant’s guiding skills by one of the CBVA’s guide instructors. This would be
at the expense of the applicant or their employer and may include travel expenses and a consulting fee to the guide
instructor (this should be negotiated independently with one of the guide instructors). The evaluating guide instructor
would then provide the CBVA Education and Certification Committee with an independent assessment of the applicant’s
skill in the form of a letter and a signed evaluation and recommendation form.

*  Ideally, the candidate should find an opportunity to serve as an Assistant, or complete the Assistant guide course
(c) 2016 S. Stringham