The den inspections for black bear cubs in North Alabama began last week. The cubs in DeKalb County are approximately six to seven weeks old right now, so a black bear cub sighting could happen to any local resident.
"We have 12 dens to check that we know of, based on the number of adult females we have collared," said Biologist Traci Wood. Traci Wood is the Habitat and Species Conservation Coordinator with the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division, an extension of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Wood said when they do the den checks, each cub will receive an expandable collar that stretches with its growth. When researchers "collar" a bear cub, they place a stretchable, flexible collar on their neck that will eventually fall off the animal. "This will give us valuable information about cubs," said Wood. The collar weighs 2.5 ounces. It tracks the bear and reports information about movements, and if something happens to the cub, researchers can locate the remains and learn more about what happened to it.
Although bear cubs can be cute and cuddly, encountering one in the wild may mean danger is lurking. Usually, where there is a cub, there's a mama bear close by, which can mean danger. All bears are dangerous, but regardless of species, you are at vast risk if you surprise a bear or get between a mother and her cubs.
Female bears are called sows. Sows will stay denned with newly born cubs and usually emerge from their winter dens in late March or early April. "At that time, cubs will be able to keep up with their mother and start an adventure of learning to forage and climb trees," said Wood.
Be particularly cautious if you see a mother bear with cubs; never place yourself between a mother bear and her cub, and never attempt to approach them.
Mother bears often leave their cubs in what they feel is a safe location searching for food and could be gone for hours. When a mother black bear leads her cubs away from a den, her usual destination is a big tree where the cubs can take refuge from danger. Wildlife experts say you should just leave the animal alone. Your presence could keep the mother from coming back.
Park Ranger and Public Information Officer at Little River Canyon Matt Switzer says, “If you have a small child with you and you encounter a curious bear, put the child on your shoulders - this will make you look larger while also protecting your child.”
According to Matt Switzer, black bears are rarely aggressive, but it's better to be safe than sorry. Here's some tips to make your time in bear country safer and more enjoyable for you and the bears.
• Don't hike alone.
• Make noise when you do hike - whistle a tune, have a conversation, or carry a bear bell, something that gives the black bear and it's excellent hearing a heads-up. Remember, a surprised bear can be an unhappy bear.
What should I do if I see a bear at a distance, but the bear doesn't see me?
• Quietly back away - don't startle it.
• If it's a sow with cubs in the area, leave immediately and change your hiking plans (don't try to go around them).
• If it's just an adult bear, detour widely (by hundreds of yards) and downwind from the bear and away from the bears direction of travel.
What should I do if I see a bear and the bear sees me?
• It's most likely that the bear will run away - don't follow it, detour widely and keep the bear in sight (so you don't stumble across it again).
• If a bear stands on its hind legs, remain calm and don't approach, talk in a normal but firm voice, and don't make any sudden movements - bears are naturally curious and may be trying to get a better look at what's making that funny sound/smell/sight in the woods.
• If the bear remains, move away, detour widely, stay upwind (so the bear can smell you and you don't surprise it).
• If the bear runs at you, try to stay calm, toss a diversionary item (hiking stick, water bottle, a food item, etc.), and seek the safety of a building or car if close by. Bears will sometimes do a false charge to scare you away from their turf.
What to do if a bear attacks:
• Don’t run. Black bears can run up to 35 miles per hour and for distances of 10 miles.
• Don’t climb a tree. Black bears are excellent climbers.
• Get in the fetal position and "play dead".
• If you're wearing a backpack, keep it on to help protect your back.
• Protect your face with your forearms, with your hands interlocked behind your neck.
• Remain in the fetal position if the bear stops the attack - bears may remain in the area for up to an hour after an attack.
• If playing dead isn't working (they bear is treating you like a meal rather than a threat to scare off), fight back.
“Fortunately, as black bears are making their return to this part of Alabama, they're skittish around humans and will most often run away; you probably won't even know a bear is in the area until you hear it crashing through the woods away from you! In the two years I've been here at Little River Canyon National Preserve, I've only seen a bear twice. Remember, like all wildlife at Little River Canyon National Preserve, this is the wildlife's home, we're just visitors,” said Switzer.
Reporting a sighting:
Any bear interactions should be avoided. "If a cub is spotted, we would like it reported to the black bear observation web page. There is no need for intervention," said Wood.
To report a black bear sighting, visit https://game.dcnr.alabama.gov/blackbear and fill out the observation report's information.
For more information about black bears in Alabama, visit outdooralabama.com or follow Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division on Facebook.
Visit bearwise.org for information on how to handle bear encounters. Specifically, this link https://bearwise.org/bear-safety-tips/bear-encounter/