If You Encounter a Bear
Black bears are not normally aggressive, but like all wild animals, they will attack if provoked. Unprovoked attacks on humans are extremely rare throughout the species’ range. Those rare attacks have occurred when humans surprised, cornered or otherwise threatened the animals.
A female with cubs is defensive and can be dangerously aggressive if she perceives that her young are threatened. Bear cubs should never be approached, even if the adult female is not observed—she will probably not be far from her young.
In a confrontational situation, humans should appear as large as possible by holding their arms out, identify themselves by making noise, and move upwind of the bear. It is important to remain calm and retreat as soon as possible, especially if cubs are present.
Bears that confront humans will often rear on their hind legs to get a better view or smell. This is not aggressive behavior.
Humans should not climb trees to escape from black bears, as bears are agile climbers. Natural barriers that block bear movement and allow quick escapes should be used instead.
Do not run. Bears can reach 35 mph and can easily outrun a person. Running can also trigger the bear’s chase instinct.
If attacked, fight back aggressively. Bears will be less likely to continue an attack if they experience enough resistance.
In threatening situations, bears can be sprayed in the face with capsaicin-based “pepper spray,” available in small pressurized canisters that can be easily carried in a pocket, pack or belt holster. Pepper spray is a strong irritant that reportedly debilitates aggressive bears by burning the mucous membranes of their eyes, nose, and throat. The effects of the spray are temporary and provide an opportunity for a person to move away from a bear to a safer location. Individuals who work or recreate in bear habitat should consider carrying this product if the likelihood of a bear encounter is high.
NOTE: It is important to understand how to use pepper spray properly and not to incapacitate yourself accidentally (e.g. high winds in opposite direction).