Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion 
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Ranger Scott Slavik speaks about bear safety during a presentation at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on Tuesday just outside of Soldotna.

Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Ranger Scott Slavik speaks about bear safety during a presentation at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on Tuesday just outside of Soldotna.

Refuge says awareness, respect, knowledge are crucial while living in bear territory

The three pillars of safety in bear country are awareness, respect and knowledge, according to an official at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Ranger Jason Oles, who has had bear encounters and experiences both in Alaska and in the Lower 48, as well as Ranger Scott Slavik, led a seminar at the refuge Tuesday for around 30 community members, outlining best practices for living, hiking and camping in bear territory.

Slavik said he doesn’t know if this summer season has seen an unusually high number of human-bear encounters or if people are simply talking about them more, but eventually the refuge decided to host a seminar because of the flow of calls from concerned community members.

Oles started with the three pillars, which he said can make all the difference.

“If you’re in a surprise encounter, you probably missed something with your awareness level,” Oles said.

He delved into the different bear species, and how they’re different from each other.

Black bears, Oles said, evolved to flee from danger. Brown bears are generally a little more defensive, both of their young and food sources.

Knowing the differences between a defensive and nondefensive encounter with bears, Oles said, can help people react during those encounters.

In a nondefensive encounter, when a bear is taking in the scent of the area and maybe on its hind legs in a curious manner, the general advice is to make some organic noise and slowly shuffle backward away from the animal.

In a defensive encounter or when a bear is testing dominance, however, sometimes using a deep and sturdy register in the voice and taking one confident step toward the animal can cause it to retreat. Defensive bears will sometimes take a step toward a person aggressively, make noise, pin their ears or swat at the ground with their paws.

Oles said most bears’ social hierarchy is based on the art of bluffing.

Ranger Scott Slavik, who also presented on Tuesday night, spoke about the importance of planning a camping trip in bear territory.

Going in larger groups, separating cooking, sleeping and latrine areas, and spacing out tents to provide potential exit paths are just some of the simple ways people can minimize risk of a bear encounter while camping. Those, and perhaps not always choosing the most scenic site by a salmon stream, where bears are sure to feast.

“That camp organization is a big thing as well,” Slavik said.

In more dire run-in situations, Oles said using bear deterrent spray effectively will most likely keep a person out of harm’s way.

Slavik said statistics show that bear spray yields better results than even firearms. A few participants in the seminar said firearms, and other deterrents like flares, were their protective measures of choice.

Actually being able to deploy the spray in a stressful situation, Slavik said, is crucial.

“It’s a really great thing to become familiar with,” he said.

Oles said as much as it is helpful to learn about bears’ stress responses, people recreating in bear territory should know about their own as well.

“It’s an equal part of the equation,” he said.

Human stress responses include temporary auditory loss, tunnel vision and the loss of fine motor skills, which can hinder a person’s ability to remove the safety from bear spray and deploy it.

“With that response it becomes super important to practice with your bear spray,” Oles said, while also noting that the spray becomes an attractant after it’s used.

The rangers led a spray exercise, in which participants had to quickly unholster and deploy an inert deterrent at a mobile bear target.

For more information on bear-aware safety, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge can be reached at 907-260-2820.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

Deb and Brad Nyquist practice deploying inert bear spray at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge just outside of Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)

Deb and Brad Nyquist practice deploying inert bear spray at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge just outside of Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)

More in News

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce attends the March 2, 2021, borough assembly meeting at the Betty J. Glick Assembly Chambers at the Borough Administration Building in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Former talk-show host to manage Pierce gubernatorial campaign

Jake Thompson is a former host of KSRM’s Tall, Dark and Handsome Show and Sound-off talk-show

Deborah Moody, an administrative clerk at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Anchorage, Alaska, looks at an oversized booklet explaining election changes in the state on Jan. 21, 2022. Alaska elections will be held for the first time this year under a voter-backed system that scraps party primaries and sends the top four vote-getters regardless of party to the general election, where ranked choice voting will be used to determine a winner. No other state conducts its elections with that same combination. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
How Alaska’s new ranked choice election system works

The Alaska Supreme Court last week upheld the system, narrowly approved by voters in 2020.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to a joint meeting of the Alaska State Legislature at the Alaska State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, for his fourth State of the State address of his administration. Dunleavy painted a positive picture for the state despite the challenges Alaska has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the economy. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Gov points ‘North to the Future’

Dunleavy paints optimistic picture in State of the State address

A COVID-19 test administrator discusses the testing process with a patient during the pop-up rapid testing clinic at Homer Public Health Center on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Free rapid COVID-19 testing available in Homer through Friday

A drive-up COVID-19 testing clinic will be held at Homer Public Health Center this week.

In this Sept. 21, 2017, file photo, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin speaks at a rally in Montgomery, Ala. Palin is on the verge of making new headlines in a legal battle with The New York Times. A defamation lawsuit against the Times, brought by the brash former Alaska governor in 2017, is set to go to trial starting Monday, Jan. 24, 2022 in federal court in Manhattan. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
Palin COVID-19 tests delay libel trial against NY Times

Palin claims the Times damaged her reputation with an opinion piece penned by its editorial board

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
COVID-19 at all-time high statewide

The state reported 5,759 new cases sequenced from Jan. 21-23

Volunteers serve food during Project Homeless Connect on Jan. 25, 2018, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file)
Project Homeless Connect to provide services, support on Wednesday

The event will be held at the Soldotna Sports Complex on Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Schools aim for business as usual as cases reach new highs

On Monday, there were 14 staff members and 69 students self-isolating with the virus

Triumvirate Theatre is seen on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 in Nikiski, Alaska. The building burned in a fire on Feb. 20. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Triumvirate construction on hold as theater seeks additional funding

The new theater is projected to cost around $4.7 million.

Most Read