The west-central area was abuzz last week after a black bear was spotted about four miles north of Kindersley. A public video posted online shows the bear climbing up into a tree, with a vehicle pulling up on the nearby road. 

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Bears aren't exactly a common sight in the region. WestCentralOnline reached out to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment to find out if the sighting was just happenstance, or if bears are a lot more common than we think around west-central Saskatchewan. 

Matthew Tokaruk is the black bear biologist with the Ministry, and gave some insight into why the bear made an appearance.

"What tends to happen in the spring, and early summer, is that black bears who are two-and-half years old are starting to disperse. It can be older than that too, but basically cubs are staying with their mom (sow) for two summers, and then when they wake up from hibernation they are in their third summer." said Tokaruk, comparing the situation to an 18-year old leaving home. "Mom says it's time to get out of here, and they have to find their own territory, find some country to live in." he described, as the local bear sighting was likely just a migrating animal searching for a new home.

He says that while both male and female bears follow the same pattern to leave the den, the male population tends to cover larger distances on their search. Tokaruk then shared that the Kindersley, and west-central area as a whole is a popular middle ground for these travels.

"You are kind of in the middle of the North Saskatchewan and South Saskatchewan River valleys. Certainly not a lot of great bear habitat around, but with the two valleys not terribly far away, it's not the most unusual thing for a bear to be seen wandering through there, for sure."

bear screengrab snapchat_0.jpg (Screengrab via Snapchat maps public story)

The next question for Tokaruk had to do with what to do during a bear encounter. The specialist wanted to take step back and give a lesson on "attractant management" first. 

"It's such an important part to avoid the situation where we have to deal with a human-bear conflict altogether. Black bears are driven by food, almost exclusively, it's a really important thing for them throughout the year. They are really just trying to find calories, lfind food, put on some fat for winter hibernation. Certain times of the year are more important than others, but it's a really big deal for them, they are always thinking with their stomach."

Keeping your space free of easy to access attractants like garbage bins and food will likely deter the bear from even showing up in the first place. This includes cleaning your BBQ, putting away your bird feeders, and even your cat and dog food. It's best to lock things up inside, as opposed to open in nature.

"Those are all scents that can attract bears." said Tokaruk, as food really is the main factor. "We tend to have human bear conflict when there is food involved. If we can remove that from the equation, bears will just travel through an area and keep on moving in their search for other easily accessible food sources, and not become habituated to food sources that are human caused."

A bear that doesn't want to raid your fridge can actually be an excellent wildife experience for people says Tokaruk.

"That bear will stay well away, and likely be moving away before we even see it. But it can be a positive experience with wildlife, versus a habituated bear which is a bit of a different sitiuation."

In the case that the black bear does approach a human, Tokaruk shared the main things to remember.

"Really want to stress that in most encounters, you are going to see the back of the bear running away down the trail, or it's going to be on the other side of the field, and it will be a non-issue." he started, before moving to the next scenario. "If you do have an encounter with a bear where it's a bit closer, of course stay calm, that's paramount. Don't run. Don't be feeding or approaching the bear, that's critical." shared Tokaruk, adding that feeding bears is actually illegal in Saskatchewan.

If a black bear is in your path you can do your best to make a wide detour, or back away. Make sure to speak in soft tones, and if you have cover to utilize it. From there a bear might remain curious and continue to approach, and that's when to start taking action according to Tokaruk.

"We do encourage carrying bear spray where it's safe to do so. You can throw your hat or something on the ground to distract the bear." he said for a pair of tips, though most encounters will never get this far.

In very rare occurrences black bears will look to engage an individual and force them to fight back. The first option should be bear spray.

"Spray more near the feet than at the face. It has to be close for that bear spray to work."

If that fails, Tokaruk gave the age old advice of "if it's black, fight back".

"In the exceptionally rare case, and I want stress how rare this is, that if a black bear was to make contact with you do fight back. These are black bears we have in Saskatchewan, although they do come in different colours, these are black bears so do fight back."

Tokaruk once again stressed how rare an encounter is. People everyday get the chance to experience calm black bears in their natural habitat, and it's almost always a positive experience with the bear staying away, as a wild animal should.

conservation_feb5.jpg If you aren't comfortable you can always call someone who is (File Photo)

With only black bears in Saskatchewan, there's really no need to panic. Staying calm is the best thing to do in these situations, as the black bear biologist had one more piece of advice to end the conversation.

"If you do have an encounter with a bear in a human safety situation, call 911. If there is a concern about nuisance bears or a public safety concern, but it's not an emergency, you can call our Poachers and Polluters Line at 1-800-667-7561, or with your SaskTel cellphone at #5555."

Anyone who wants to learn more about black bears can visit the Ministry's webpage, or call the inquiry line at 1-800-567-4224.