Bears Are Active in Olympic National Park: What You Need to Know

The seemingly never-ending wetness from the winter of 2016-17 is said to finally be ending. We welcome warm temperatures, clear skies and the strange yellow orb glowing in the sky. With the change in the weather, signs of life are returning to the Pacific Northwest. While above average snow still sits on the mountains, spring has sprung in full force in the lower elevations. All along trails in majestic river valleys, trillium are popping up and wildflower seasons seems to be just around the corner. The warmer days also mean that larger animals who hibernate and/or become lethargic in the winter are starting to wake up. Earlier this week, black bears were reported to be active around Olympic National Park and Forest, letting us know that winter is officially over. It is starting to be bear season out on the trails of Olympic National Park, so hikers need to start being loud on the trails and making sure they continue to follow Leave No Trace and Wildlife Watching rules and regulations.

Before you start freaking out about bear activity along your favorite hike, please be reminded of a few facts. There has not been a reported bear “attack” on a human in the history of Olympic National Park. The Olympic National Park website states that “there have been several instances of aggressive bears in the Olympics. No injuries have been reported, but property was damaged and bears have acted in a threatening manner.”

A black bear in the Quinault region of Olympic National Park
A black bear in the Quinault region of Olympic National Park

On April 24th, 2015, idiots in the backcountry , near the Enchanted Valley Chalet, left food carelessly out, with reports saying that they did it purposely to attract bears to the area.  This led to the closure of Enchanted Valley for backcountry camping for nearly two months, with the region opening back up in mid-June of 2015. Bear incidents are rare, but visitors to the park need to be smart, safe and good stewards of the land. Keep at least 50 yards away from a black bear at all times, not just for you, but to let the bear live in peace. After all, you are entering their home.

Currently, black bear sightings are few and far between in Olympic National Park, but increasing every day. In the past week, bear scat and sightings have occurred in the Quinault region of Olympic National Park, as well as up in the Elwha River Valley. Bears have also now been seen almost daily in the Sol Duc region of the park. Black bears are found in every corner of the Olympic Peninsula.

I would anticipate bear sightings to skyrocket in the next few weeks, especially with the warmer weather and melting snowpack. If you want to know where best to see black bears and other animals in Olympic, I strongly urge you to pick up a copy of The Definitive Guide to Olympic National Park and Peninsula.

A “fun” fact: Mountain goats have killed more people in Olympic National Park than bears. That number is one. 

But that doesn’t mean you can be stupid. Bears are aggressive, large and unpredictable at times. Right now, black bear sows are emerging with cubs, making them much more likely to show aggressive behavior toward people. To best prepare yourself and stay safe, follow these few simple rules from Olympic National Park and The Outdoor Society.

  • If you meet a bear on the trail, give it a wide berth of 50 yards (half the length of a football field) or more.
  • When hiking alone, make noise every so often to let bears know you are coming.
  • If you feel like you need to, carry a canister of bear spray.
  • If a bear comes into camp, make noise to scare the bear away. If it is intent on getting your food or other property, do not risk injury.
  • Use Bear canisters and bear wires properly. Learn more here.
  • In the face of repeated encounters, leave the area, with or without your property as appropriate.
  • Notify park staff in all instances of food loss or property damage, or any other threatening acts by bears.
  • Learn more about the Olympic Black Bear here.

Please submit a Black Bear Incident Form if you experience an encounter with a bear, such as a bear approaching you at a distance of less than 50 yards, a bear entering your campsite, or a bear that attempts to take your food.

Watch A Bear in Olympic National Park Eat

 

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Featured Image via Creative Commons Flickr User- Wildtrees

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By Doug and Mathias on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State

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