Prepare for bear: Expert launches website offering safety tips for ursine encounters
Kim Titchener is trying to make sure everyone feels safe when going out in the woods
Each spring, bear expert Kim Titchener fields a flood of questions about the animal that is equal parts revered and feared by Alberta's hiking enthusiasts: When should you carry bear spray? Is it safe to have your dog off-leash in the woods? Are bears attracted to periods?
With an increasing number of people getting outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, Titchener wanted to ensure people could access comprehensive and accurate information.
So last month, she launched RecSafe with Wildlife, an online bear safety resource.
"A pamphlet that you grab at the park gate is not enough," said Titchener. "The last thing you want to do is be hiking down a trail and then you're like, 'Oh shoot, there's a bear. Does anybody know what to do?'"
She wants people to learn how to be safe around animals and be prepared when hiking and camping.
People make common mistakes, such as walking quietly on the trail or hiking without bear spray, she said.
"There's a lot of bad habits going on out there because people are new to the outdoors, they don't know what they're supposed to be doing," said Titchener, who has worked on wildlife conflict reduction programs with industry, government and communities for 15 years.
That can lead to bears eating human food or becoming too comfortable around people.
"The end result is a lot of dead bears," said Titchener.
This year, she says she has seen an increase in large carnivore attacks.
Titchener said the country has already surpassed the average yearly bear-related deaths — and it's only June.
"Normally, the average is one or two a year," said Titchener.
Two fatal bear attacks this spring
Ina Lucila, Alberta Justice spokesperson, said in an emailed statement that wildlife officers generally see about two to three close bear contacts every year. She said there have been three grizzly bear and two black bear mauling fatalities in the past 11 years.
Two of those fatal attacks happened this spring.
Parks Canada says no one has died from a bear attack in a national park over the past decade.
There are many Facebook pages dedicated to hiking information, but Titchener says she sees a lot of disinformation.
"They're not experts in bear behaviour and conflict. And they're getting bad advice. And in fact, some of that advice can get you killed," she said.
"I'm madly going on there and trying to answer all these questions."
Titchener spent about $10,000 to build the site and provide the content, but membership is free. Part of the website includes a forum where Titchener answers any submitted bear-related questions.
There is a section for paid safety courses, with the funds used to create more safety courses, she said.
Titchener has been offering free Facebook live question-and-answer sessions to groups, including Women Who Hike Alberta.
"Having an actual expert come to one… it was wonderful," said Sizanne Isleifson, who runs the Facebook group. "I really, really thought it would be pertinent to get women feeling safe and confident outside."
Isleifson said typically she would see up to 10 people posting questions on the page every day.
After Titchener's chat, it went down to one.
"It was quite a hit," Isleifson said of the live Facebook broadcast. "Everybody really wanted to get a piece of that."