Monday, 25 July 2016 08:00

Southwest Albertans improve their ‘bear smarts’

Written by  Stephanie Labbe
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The Waterton Biosphere held a bear safety workshop in Beaver Mines in June. It was well attended with more than 50 people further their ‘bear smarts.’ The Waterton Biosphere held a bear safety workshop in Beaver Mines in June. It was well attended with more than 50 people further their ‘bear smarts.’ Photo contributed

People in southwest Alberta have been learning bear safety thanks to workshops hosted by the Waterton Biosphere each year.

On June 18 a bear safety workshop was put on in Beaver Mines and Jeff Bectell, chair for the Waterton Biosphere, says it went well.
“We’ve done a few of them now and it seems like …people go away and think that it was worthwhile,” he says.
There were somewhere between 55 to 60 people at the Beaver Mines bear safety half-day workshop. People learned about bear behaviour, so that people encountering a bear can understand a little bit about what the bear is thinking or doing.
Participants also learned how to figure out if bears are acting defensively or aggressively.
At the workshop, they talked about grizzly bears, black bears and what would be the appropriate response in different situations.
“We discuss … just briefly a little bit about the reality on farms and ranches that it’s not like a campground and you can just shut it down or a hiking trail and say don’t hike here, because that’s where you work and that’s where you live and so how to assess the risk on your own farm and things that you can do to maybe decrease bear attractants on your own property,” adds Bectell.
Different ways of decreasing bear attractants on farms were discussed and some of those ways include bear proofing grain bins and removing dead stock.
People also had the opportunity to see bear spray used and were taught how and when to use it.
They were also able to use the bear spray themselves. The bear spray used at the workshop didn’t have pepper in it, so people at the workshop could safely use it and get an idea of how far it shoots, how it responds in wind, how to take it out of the holster and take off the safety, how to point and shoot and where to aim with it. Every family at the workshop took home a real can of the bear spray to have as a tool on their own farms for safety.
The Waterton Biosphere advertises in the local area where the next workshop will be to get the word out, so people can register for the workshops. They aim at targeting farm and ranch families.
“I think … our hope is that maybe … people’s response to bears is pretty varied. Some people are far more comfortable with them than others. Some people really love them, some people really hate them, …but we hope that …in all cases, people go away saying if I encounter a bear — I’m a little bit more prepared to deal with it,” adds Bectell.
Organizers hope people walk away not as fearful of bears as they may have been prior to the workshop, so they can act responsibly and properly when and if they encounter a bear.
Some people say they never used to have grizzlies on their properties and now they do, so they’re a bit fearful of letting their children wander freely like they used to as children.
However, Bectell says after people take part in the workshop they hope they walk away with better knowledge of how to let themselves and their children roam more freely on their property while knowing what to do if they encounter a bear.
This workshop was the first time the Waterton Biosphere held a bear safety workshop in Beaver Mines. Bectell says they try and hold one bear safety workshop somewhere in southwest Alberta once a year.

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