Several black bear sightings in southeast Saskatchewan serve as a reminder to keep camping and outdoor areas clean and free of attractants to reduce the risk of enticing black bears.

Matthew Tokaruk, a black bear biologist with the Ministry of Environment, said Saskatchewan is considered black bear country, especially closer to wooded areas.

“It’s quite common and normal to see dispersing younger black bears. And often these are two and half years old, they're on their own for the first time and they can travel large distances if they are looking for food and territory,” said Tokaruk.

Provincial parks such as Moose Mountain, Qu'Appelle Valley, and Pipestone are common places for bears. Tokaruk noted that the further south you go, the fewer pockets of good habitat there are for black bears.

He explained that bears are often driven by their search for food throughout the non-snowy months.

“We can do a lot with managing our attractants to mitigate that concern for human-bear conflict and allow bears to just be bears and keep them and ourselves safe.”

Keeping yards, cabins, campsites, and other areas free from excess garbage can help reduce the risk of attracting bears. Tokaruk added that keeping BBQs clean, taking down bird feeders, and keeping fish, meat, and oils out of compost can also help. It is also recommended to not put out trash cans until the day of pick-up instead of the night before.

“It’s better for bears and better for us if they don’t become habituated to our food sources,” said Tokaruk. “It doesn’t take terribly long, especially in situations where they’re revisiting these areas for food. They can get accustomed to human food sources very quickly, and that is not a good situation.”

Tokaruk advised against feeding or approaching black bears and emphasized staying calm if you encounter one up close. He noted that being in groups outdoors can also help keep black bears at bay.

“I really want to stress that the majority of time we encounter black bears in the wild, we’re just seeing a bear running away down the trail or across the field.”

He added that it is important to make a wide detour or calmly back away while breaking your line of sight. Move to a shelter, such as a car or building, and break your sightline as soon as possible. Speak in low tones and avoid direct eye contact with the bear. Breaking the line of sight is a crucial step.

Tokaruk advised not to climb a tree to escape from a black bear, as they are good climbers. If the bear continues to follow you, dropping a hat or another item to distract the bear could be the next course of action. Meanwhile, get your bear spray ready.

“We want to encourage folks if they are hiking to carry bear spray. The spray is a useful tool in these rare encounters where they do approach.”

“They’re cautious creatures by nature and especially when there’s events with multiple folks around, often just that noise will keep them away from the area for sure, and most of the time you don’t even see them or know they’re there.”

He reiterated that it is incredibly rare for a black bear to approach humans. If all other options to de-escalate the situation fail, fighting back may be the only option.

If there is an imminent human safety risk with bears or other wildlife, call 911. If there’s concern about a nuisance bear but it’s not a public safety issue, call the poachers and polluters line at 1-800-667-7561. For more information on attractant management actions, visit the Ministry of Environment’s website or call 1-800-567-4224.