Recognize the signs that bears are about to keep yourself safe

Bears - especially black bears - can be unpredictable, but there are ways to safeguard yourself when you're around them.

There is nothing cute or cuddly about bears; and black bears are notoriously unpredictable.

Ashcroft resident Marcus Lowe says that he has already seen bears down at the Thompson River catching salmon, and urges people to become bear aware.

“People don’t know how to behave around bears to maximize their safety,” says Lowe, a retired geologist who worked for exploration and mining companies and has learned how to keep safe around bears and other predators. “People are very curious, and it can lead them to do foolish things.”

George McKnight of Kamloops, who is a Master Instructor and Trainer for wilderness safety and awareness courses, agrees. His Predator Awareness and Wilderness Safety (PAWS) courses teach people how to act and behave around bears and other predators.

“People are taught to recognize the signs that show bears are around, and use their common sense,” he explains. “The course is about bear awareness, about being defensive, not offensive. It’s about how to avoid bears, and if you can’t avoid them it teaches you what to do.”

His number one tip is to be alert, and do not in any way present a threat. “If you encounter a bear, just quietly back away. No jerky movements; be smooth.” Do not try to outrun a bear, he adds; they can reach speeds of 40 miles per hour. “No human being can run that fast.”

He explains that bears are omnivores, which means they will eat anything, and that they spend their entire lives trying to fill their stomachs. “There’s nothing cute or cuddly about them.” He notes that adding a dog to the bear/human mix can be trouble.

“Dogs and bears are natural enemies, going back to the days when dogs were still wolves. And dogs are unpredictable, whether they’re on- or off-leash. You’ve got a keg of dynamite there.” He adds that he has heard of a number of cases where an off-leash dog has got into a fight with a bear and been injured. “And where does the dog go when it’s been hurt? Right between the owner’s legs.”

He says that while black bears are more unpredictable than grizzlies—“They may run away, they may circle around behind you, they may lie in ambush”—he notes that most of the time, if a bear senses it can get away it will run.

McKnight runs his PAWS courses on demand, and says that anyone interested in taking part can contact him at, or visit his website at He notes that if there is enough demand in the Ashcroft area, he would be happy to travel to the area to present the training session, which lasts three to four hours and costs $50 per person.

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