Take the 2-minute tour ×
The Great Outdoors Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people who love outdoor activities, excursions, and outdoorsmanship. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I understand, and practice, bear-safe rules like hanging (or canister-ing) during summer months, but what about in the winter when bears are (theoretically) hibernating, and the shorter / colder days make every extra task 10 times more difficult?

Is there some room for leeway?

share|improve this question
add comment

5 Answers

Bear canister rules are often relaxed in the winter. However, this will depend on where you are camping. On the east coast, in the Adirondacks, the rule is:

NYSDEC Regulation Requires The Use of Bear Resistant Canisters by Overnight Users in The Eastern High Peaks Wilderness Between April 1 And November 30. NYSDEC encourages campers to use bear resistant canisters throughout the Adirondack and Catskill backcountry.

On the other hand, out west bear cans are often required year round.

Obviously, you'll want to check the rules for the specific park you are going to be in, but as a more general guideline, if the temperature is generally staying below freezing there shouldn't be much bear activity. Combined with the general bear population this will determine if bears are likely to be a problem.

Another thing to consider though, is that hanging your food protects it from more than just bears (eg mice). While the bears might not be a problem, mice don't hibernate.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Bears don’t really hibernate, although they lower their activity during winter. Here’s one sample study of Black Bear winter behaviour in Sierra Nevada, California:

Thirty-nine (62 %) bears were winter-dormant for at least 2 weeks; the remaining 24 (38 %) remained active all winter.

Here in Czech Republic we don’t have many bears, most of them cross from Slovakia, but around the state border it’s quite common to find bear footprints in snow during the winter. Draw your own conclusions.

share|improve this answer
1  
Good article - shows some variability by region as mentioned above. –  LBell Nov 14 '12 at 20:28
1  
This is a little misleading. I live in an area where it is commonplace to hear of bears killing people... It happens all the time around here, especially in the spring. Bears really do hibernate. –  studiohack Jan 26 '13 at 23:36
3  
Why is it misleading? Wikipedia says bears don’t hibernate and the quoted scientific study confirms that. In no part of the answer I imply that bears are not dangerous – if anything, my answer says that you should be careful around bears even in winter. –  zoul Jan 27 '13 at 9:05
add comment

Some reasons for leeway:

  • Regulations allow for it. Each park and wilderness area have their own rules and regulations. Some may allow for relaxed practices during known hibernation periods of their local bear population, though some may not. This is simply something that will require personal research into the area in question.

  • Inclement weather The weather conditions that you might encounter could be so difficult that hanging a bear bag, or following normal bear-safe practices actually becomes more of a risk just because of the increased exposure, increased energy expended, or it is taking away valuable time that you are needing to dedicate to more pertinent, essential needs. These could include things such as building and maintaining a fire, seeking or improving shelter to stay warm, or just getting the extra sleep required because of the increased energy expenditure. One also might use the logic that any bears that are out there are seeking shelter from such bad weather as well.

  • Emergency or injury This is related to the previous point since cold-related injury is the most probable in winter. If you or someone in your group is in need of medical care, then that is going to take priority over following bear-safe rules, at least until such time that the situation and patients are stabilized.

  • Near 100% certainty that bears are inactive This is a tall order, but if you know based upon all evidence and knowledge that all bears in your area are in hibernation then certainly some leniency doesn't sound unreasonable. But...can you really ever be this certain?

My opinion is no, you can't ever be certain that all bears of all species are inactive where you are. And besides, they aren't the only animals of concern.

Some reasons for no leeway:

  • A fed bear is a dead bear! Bears are increasingly becoming food-conditioned and/or habituated to human presence. This means a bear's natural habits may be altered, or may even be largely dependent upon human food or garbage. Just because it's cold doesn't been the bear is dormant, especially with the possibility of a continuous, viable food supply because of careless people.

  • Not all bears hibernate. And not all bears hibernate at the same time. Habits & behaviors vary between species, and vary even among species by the region and its climate. For example, some black bears never hibernate because they can still find food all year, even despite the winter temperatures. This can often be the case in the Southeastern US where I live currently. So it seems it would be a rather bold assumption to think that bears are not active just because it's winter and cold.

  • Hanging a bear bag isn't just for bears. It's also to protect your food from other wildlife. Shorter and colder days are all the more reason to plan accordingly to protect your food from hungry animals that are just looking for an easy meal.

From Princeton's Outdoor Action Site:

“Bear bagging” is something of a general term used for hanging your food. There are lots of other animals (raccoons, opossums, coyotes, chipmunks, skunks, etc.) that will go after human food. In some cases you may be camped in locations where there are no bears, but still need to hang your food at night...

So in light of the above points, barring exceptions such as weather and emergencies, appropriate bear-safe practices should be maintained throughout the year, regardless of season and temperature.


Personal anecdote: I was backpacking on the Appalachian Trail in Grayson Highlands State Park near Mount Rogers in the winter several years ago. There was probably two feet of snow or more everywhere. We didn't hang bear bags. What got into our food? Wild ponies. Yep. Wild ponies. Who knew.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I would suggest following the bear rules year round. In the Canadian Rockies, we still have areas closed due to bear activity in the middle of January. Plus ravens will make short work of anything left accessible, not to mention worrying about attracting cougars and wolves.

Here's a couple links outlining safety for camping in the backcountry, and in case you do see a bear.

Be Bear Smart
Backcountry Camping

share|improve this answer
add comment

Like already mentioned in other replies, it depends were you are and the weather changes. I'm working on a bear project in the Canadian Rockies and we know the bears can be active until January. They should be in there den until April, but there are exceptions. We always take bear spray with us during winter fieldwork.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.