Bears in Salt Creek Canyon, Canyonlands

LarryBoy

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Obviously the whole point is to avoid negative encounters but I suggest you read a couple journal articles by Tom Smith and Stephen Herrero regarding the record of bears being deterred by bear spray. A pretty strong track record thus far, and growing every year.

And @LarryBoy Yes, we can certainly agree to disagree but it's definitely NOT the Alaskan in me talking, more likely being the parent of 2 kids raised in the wilds, as well as 25 years of teaching bear safety classes. I think most of us realize the extremely low chance of suffering a bear attack, but if carrying an extra 12 ounces or so seems like a lot, just carry a cup less of water and you'll nearly make up the difference.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to carry bear spray, use my seatbelt, and wear a mask in public.
Let's drill down a bit, if you don't mind. The point isn't to challenge (though you and I do have slightly different risk tolerances when it comes to the issue), but to hopefully productive dialogue where we all come away a little wiser. I apologize that my post came off as a little flippant. I'd like that cycle to end before it gains steam.

How do you personally make the decision whether or not to carry bear spray in a particular environment? Is it anytime a nearby land manager has a canister requirement? How about areas that are black bear habitat, but pretty marginal? Examples in my mind include the Gila Wilderness, the Superstitions, Ocala NF, the middle Paria, or the Uintas? How about the deep woods of the Midwest (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota)? Heck, a black bear wandered into a school in Bozeman a few years ago, yet I assume you don't walk around developed areas of Bozeman with a can of UDAP. Therefore, I assume that there's some point for you where you consider the risk so low as to justify not carrying bear spray. How would you characterize that risk calculus, in your mind?
 

Laura V.

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I think that's the Alaskan in you talking :) I think I'm with @RyanP on this one. This ain't the Sierra or Adirondacks, thankfully. While it totally makes sense that there's a canister requirement inside Canyonlands (wildlife in a National Park is deserving of a particularly high level of protection), the fact that there's no canister requirement for the adjoining Manti-La Sal National Forest is telling. I similarly wouldn't bring bear spray in Rocky Mtn National Park, or Bryce Canyon. The bears just aren't as habituated, numerous, or bold as they are in the Sierra.

I'd never say it's dumb, or wrong to take it, but to me, it's like taking a personal locator beacon on a quick-overnighter on a popular trail. At some point, the marginal risk reduction is so small that it's just not worth the weight on your back. Whether it's worth it to you - that's a question only you can answer. And I guess on that point, O'fool and I respectfully disagree. :)

Re practicing with your bear spray: 100% agree. Safety equipment doesn't have any use at all unless you're practiced/skilled in using it. And, speaking from personal experience, when bears attack, they do so very quickly :)
I just read your trip GYL trip report. Holy smokes! What an adventure! The whole thing, minus the bear attack, sounds incredible. I'm glad that you were able to walk away... Also, I think I've just been convinced that 10 ounces of bear spray is worth it - whether or not there are grizzlies in the neighborhood. Black bears spook just as fast.
 

LarryBoy

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I just read your trip GYL trip report. Holy smokes! What an adventure! The whole thing, minus the bear attack, sounds incredible. I'm glad that you were able to walk away... Also, I think I've just been convinced that 10 ounces of bear spray is worth it - whether or not there are grizzlies in the neighborhood. Black bears spook just as fast.
Sure thing - hopefully spooking in the other direction of course!
 

Outdoor_Fool

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How do you personally make the decision whether or not to carry bear spray in a particular environment?


@LarryBoy That is a great question! The short answer is whenever the kids or my wife are with me, I carry bear spray. But that is mostly in Alaska where everywhere but the Aleutians Islands are occupied grizzly habitat. When we hike in grizzly habitat in the lower 48, I carry, as do my wife, and the kids. In recent years, my forays to the lower 48 are typically to grizzly country, whether I'm with the family or not, so I carry. But, let's say I go to visit Colorado in a couple summers, and backpack for a week. Am I going to carry? I can't say for certain.

Hypocritical? Probably, considering my past posts. BUT there are mitigating factors that I hope I can relate without sounding elitist. I have spent literally thousands of hours observing both black and grizzly bears, both in National Parks and on other public lands, from distances as far as a mile or so, to as close as tens of feet. I feel that I have a good handle on what is typical bear behavior and what separates, for instance, a black bear that is curious (a typical behavior) from one that is stalking me (very untypical but potentially deadly). I can differentiate high-risk situations from low-risk.

As a long-time bear safety instructor, I am very very familiar with how the 2 species differ in their interactions with humans. I am also very familiar with how to react to each species if something starts to go wrong. Most importantly, I know what steps to take along the way to minimize the chance of a close encounter with a grizzly, and why that's critical; or a black bear, and why it's not so critical. Minimizing the chance of a negative encounter is what I stress in my classes.

Fortunately for humans, we can do so many things wrong and still spend a day/week/month in grizzly/mountain lion/moose/elk/etc. country without being destroyed. Spend a day in Yellowstone and, as you know, you will see countless instances of that. But there are those extremely rare instances where a person can do nearly everything right, and wind up injured or worse. (Google Pogo Mine employees black bear attack, for instance). That is why I carry bear spray.

Anyway, probably too many words. And I agree it's a great discussion.
 

Outdoor_Fool

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And @LarryBoy I did not think your comment was flippant. I honestly thought you were referring to the belief, that I have heard over and over, that Alaska's bears are more dangerous than elsewhere. Thanks for the questions and yes, it can be a complex decision to make. There used to be a poster put out by the Alaska BLM office, or Fish and Game or multi-agency that broke down the risks in bear country. It said to avoid all risk, stay in your house. That has been proven to be false as several people (Alaska and elsewhere) have had bears break into their homes in the last few years. And no, I probably won't start sleeping with bear spray in my bedroom :).
 

Goat

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Sorry, guess I hit a nerve with some. I'm no expert, and I probably shouldn't have said bear spray wasn't that effective. I've had exactly one grizzly encounter, one that did not require bear spray deployment thank goodness. And I totally agree that it is a potentially effective deterrent under certain conditions, enough so that I would always recommend carrying it in grizzly country (to me it's not worth carrying in black bear country, but by no means does that mean it's useless). My comments were simply meant to convey that I tend to doubt that it's as useful as people give it credit for. Mainly because I think people tend to put more stock in gear than they should, while not considering the knowledge, practices and skills that can have an overall greater impact as preventive measures. Measures such as making noise, not cooking near your camp or perhaps not "cooking" at all and eating meals that are less likely to leave odors on you and your gear, hanging your food or placing your canisters far from your tent, staying alert in areas that can surprise bears, not hiking alone, and so on. I think some people seem to feel completely protected and at ease with that little can strapped to their belt, and go on to hike as they've always hiked, almost daring a bear encounter to occur. To me, it seems that doing all those preventive things I mentioned have more cumulative effect in reducing the probability of an encounter, which is far better than relying on one thing (bear spray) to get safely out of an encounter. In my business we call these things "left of launch," meaning doing everything you can to prevent the launch of a missile in the first place, before you have to deal with a missile in the air heading your way - because once that happens your options are pretty limited. A missile heading toward me and a bear heading toward me are very similar situations; at that point, I have very few things I can do to survive. But before that missile is launched or that bear is charging, I had many more things that could be done to prevent it from happening at all. Hope that helps explain!
 

Laura V.

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Sorry, guess I hit a nerve with some. I'm no expert, and I probably shouldn't have said bear spray wasn't that effective. I've had exactly one grizzly encounter, one that did not require bear spray deployment thank goodness. And I totally agree that it is a potentially effective deterrent under certain conditions, enough so that I would always recommend carrying it in grizzly country (to me it's not worth carrying in black bear country, but by no means does that mean it's useless). My comments were simply meant to convey that I tend to doubt that it's as useful as people give it credit for. Mainly because I think people tend to put more stock in gear than they should, while not considering the knowledge, practices and skills that can have an overall greater impact as preventive measures. Measures such as making noise, not cooking near your camp or perhaps not "cooking" at all and eating meals that are less likely to leave odors on you and your gear, hanging your food or placing your canisters far from your tent, staying alert in areas that can surprise bears, not hiking alone, and so on. I think some people seem to feel completely protected and at ease with that little can strapped to their belt, and go on to hike as they've always hiked, almost daring a bear encounter to occur. To me, it seems that doing all those preventive things I mentioned have more cumulative effect in reducing the probability of an encounter, which is far better than relying on one thing (bear spray) to get safely out of an encounter. In my business we call these things "left of launch," meaning doing everything you can to prevent the launch of a missile in the first place, before you have to deal with a missile in the air heading your way - because once that happens your options are pretty limited. A missile heading toward me and a bear heading toward me are very similar situations; at that point, I have very few things I can do to survive. But before that missile is launched or that bear is charging, I had many more things that could be done to prevent it from happening at all. Hope that helps explain!
@Goat I have appreciated yours and everyone's very thoughtful and thorough responses here. I heard your point about many people relying on gear while checking good sense, awareness, and skill development at the door. We see this so often, unfortunately. Bear spray, like anything else, is a tool. To be most effective, the user must take the time to learn how to use it correctly/responsibly and under what circumstances. This includes knowing the environment and how to read the behaviors of the animals in it. Even then, things go wrong, and spray is no guarantee of safety. To your point on prevention, I also agree. I would so much rather not deploy my weapon if I could have avoided the battle in the first place. Keeping a clean camp, making noise, and generally being aware of one's surroundings can not be replaced by a canister on your hip belt. Carrying bear spray or not, we must all do whatever we can to prevent the launch.
 
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Rockskipper

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We have bears come into Moab every so often, though rare, and one was even rescued from a big pothole above town a number of years ago. Nobody would expect them out in the desert until you look up and see the La Sals (lots there) and the Blues (Abajos) and even the Henrys, all bear territory, and not really that far of a hike for a bear. I've encountered blackies and never been threatened. The ghost of the forest (mtn. lion) is to me much more of a threat, and you'll probably never see it coming, but bear spray works on them, too. Mtn. lions have been spotted on Slick Rock Trail, and they come into town, though rarely (one time they killed part of a flock of sheep right in town). Cedar Mesa has plenty, actually, any place with a deer population. But generally, critters will leave you alone if they hear you coming. Having said that, I would carry bear spray. But your biggest danger is probably from having ravens steal your gorp, though I would never use bear spray on them. :)

ETA: If you look at the stats, there are more deaths from blackies than from brownies, but then there are lots more blackies with a wider distribution. Even at that, given the number of people in the woods, if bears were intrinsically mean evil creatures, there would be lots more missing humans.
 
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LarryBoy

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@LarryBoy That is a great question! The short answer is whenever the kids or my wife are with me, I carry bear spray. But that is mostly in Alaska where everywhere but the Aleutians Islands are occupied grizzly habitat. When we hike in grizzly habitat in the lower 48, I carry, as do my wife, and the kids. In recent years, my forays to the lower 48 are typically to grizzly country, whether I'm with the family or not, so I carry. But, let's say I go to visit Colorado in a couple summers, and backpack for a week. Am I going to carry? I can't say for certain.

Hypocritical? Probably, considering my past posts. BUT there are mitigating factors that I hope I can relate without sounding elitist. I have spent literally thousands of hours observing both black and grizzly bears, both in National Parks and on other public lands, from distances as far as a mile or so, to as close as tens of feet. I feel that I have a good handle on what is typical bear behavior and what separates, for instance, a black bear that is curious (a typical behavior) from one that is stalking me (very untypical but potentially deadly). I can differentiate high-risk situations from low-risk.

As a long-time bear safety instructor, I am very very familiar with how the 2 species differ in their interactions with humans. I am also very familiar with how to react to each species if something starts to go wrong. Most importantly, I know what steps to take along the way to minimize the chance of a close encounter with a grizzly, and why that's critical; or a black bear, and why it's not so critical. Minimizing the chance of a negative encounter is what I stress in my classes.

Fortunately for humans, we can do so many things wrong and still spend a day/week/month in grizzly/mountain lion/moose/elk/etc. country without being destroyed. Spend a day in Yellowstone and, as you know, you will see countless instances of that. But there are those extremely rare instances where a person can do nearly everything right, and wind up injured or worse. (Google Pogo Mine employees black bear attack, for instance). That is why I carry bear spray.

Anyway, probably too many words. And I agree it's a great discussion.
It sounds like our approaches are pretty similar then. I can't claim 25 years of mastery over anything but... breathing?... but I've dedicated myself to learning signs of predatory vs defensive behavior and the proper response to each. It probably saved my life, to be honest. My rule for bear spray is:

1) Anytime I'm in grizzly country
2) Anytime I'm north of the Snake River Plain/Great Divide Basin (I know that not all of it is griz territory, but they're expanding their range rapidly enough that whatever source I'd use to determine the extent of their habitat quickly becomes out-of-date)
3) Anytime there's a specific problem-bear report for the area I'm visiting (thinking of a nuisance bear that was hanging around Bryce a few years ago, in specific).

It honestly sounds like most folks are converging around the central point: bear spray is only one of the tools in your belt. It's a weapon of last resort, and certainly not a panacea. At the same time, there are situations where it's absolutely necessary - and in those cases, it's remarkably effective.
 

LarryBoy

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We have bears come into Moab every so often, though rare, and one was even rescued from a big pothole above town a number of years ago. Nobody would expect them out in the desert until you look up and see the La Sals (lots there) and the Blues (Abajos) and even the Henrys, all bear territory, and not really that far of a hike for a bear. I've encountered blackies and never been threatened. The ghost of the forest (mtn. lion) is to me much more of a threat, and you'll probably never see it coming, but bear spray works on them, too. Mtn. lions have been spotted on Slick Rock Trail, and they come into town, though rarely (one time they killed part of a flock of sheep right in town). Cedar Mesa has plenty, actually, any place with a deer population. But generally, critters will leave you alone if they hear you coming. Having said that, I would carry bear spray. But your biggest danger is probably from having ravens steal your gorp, though I would never use bear spray on them. :)

ETA: If you look at the stats, there are more deaths from blackies than from brownies, but then there are lots more blackies with a wider distribution. Even at that, given the number of people in the woods, if bears were intrinsically mean evil creatures, there would be lots more missing humans.
I've seen tracks in Hackberry before. It's one of the last places in the world you'd expect one to be, but super neat!
 

Titans

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I'm curious about how aggressive/habituated to humans the bears are in this area. Has anyone encountered an aggressive bear here?

Welcome @Laura V.

In the past 2 years I cannot recall anyone here on BCP mentioning an aggressive bear encounter in Salt Creek specifically. (So now that I stated that, we might actually hear something ;) ). I would ask the rangers above question as well....

We did see A LOT of feline tracks (Bobcat & Mountain Lion) in Lower Salt Creek in fall of 2020.

Also, like @Rockskipper mentioned tons of "ravens stealing food stories".
 

LarryBoy

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Welcome @Laura V.

In the past 2 years I cannot recall anyone here on BCP mentioning an aggressive bear encounter in Salt Creek specifically. (So now that I stated that, we might actually hear something ;) ). I would ask the rangers above question as well....

We did see A LOT of feline tracks (Bobcat & Mountain Lion) in Lower Salt Creek in fall of 2020.

Also, like @Rockskipper mentioned tons of "ravens stealing food stories".
Don't forget the squirrels! Needles visitors center has a shredded ursack (the older kind) that they love to trot out when folks stop by for their permits.
 

LarryBoy

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Such a similar statement can be said for travel in avalanche terrain...
Indeed. Humans are just really, really bad at properly gaging the risk of low-probability, high-consequence events. If anything, the problem is worse when it comes to slides, because we don't have the instinctive, primal fear that we do of apex predators.
 

Kmatjhwy

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Now was thinking on this thread and wanted to say this ...

How many people have the mentality of Lions, Tigers, and Bears O My! How many people are soooooo divorced from the good good wild country when it comes to their lives and daily habits. How many are frightened big-time when they will take a walk in any sort of wild country. But those same people think nothing, nothing at all, of driving down a freeway or a busy city street with cars going every which way. One person is injured or killed by a bear and it hits the papers. But everyday people are killed or seriously injured by freaking car accidents. Think about this. People have no fear of traveling in our modern day traffic, but terrified of a bear or such when on a hike. Freaking Ridiculous in my opinion!

Come on People!!!! The Wild Earth is Our Home! At least it is what I consider my home.! I have spent many a day since 1978 wandering the mountain wilds and have had many many a close encounter with a Grizzly, or a Wolf, or some other wildlife and I am still in one piece. How many times have been in some mountain meadow for some days and shared this same place daily with some big Grizzly, or a pack of Wolves, the Elk, that small Black Bear up on a nearby slope, and more. It added to my life just living in the wilds surrounded by it all. The wildlife have added to my life and not taken away from it. But to live in fear I think is what is wrong. We all should hold our heads up high and Enjoy Life.

As for Best Spray, doesn't weigh much so take it. you might not use it but you have it just in case you do need it. Keep a clean camp. But your best tool you have ... The Very Best Thing you have ... Is that brain of yours between your ears. When in the Deep Wilds ... USE IT!!!! Be Alert! Know what is going on around you. Give the other life forms we share this planet with their space which they deserve, and keep a clean clean camp.

Wishing Everyone the Best!!!!
 

Bob Wire

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Having been threatened with a gun at Moonhouse ruins, charged 3 different times by bull moose and finding my tracks being followed by a cougar, the bear spray never leaves the outside, handy pocket in the pack on my back.
 

Kmatjhwy

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Bob, Now personally am more leery of big Bull or Cow Moose then Grizzlies. Have heard many a person being charged by a Moose. Another reason to carry Bear Spray. In my hikes I always always give the Moose plenty of space.
 
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