(BPT) - Coming to Ely for a little R&R in the wilderness? Awesome! You'll have a great time. But just be mindful of the denizens of the forest you might encounter along the way. Our black bears are beloved residents of the Northwoods, but when people come for a visit, they can bring some wrongly held myths about bears with them, along with their backpacks and bug spray.
Here are some of the most common bear myths, busted.
Myth: You'll never see bear tracks in the snow. They hibernate, and don't come out until spring.
Busted! Spring in Ely is a relative term. When the weather warms up, we can still have lots of snow and slush on the ground. One day, you're enjoying a cold one on the deck in the warm sun; the next morning, you could wake up to fresh snow. So when the bears rouse and creep out of their dens, they may be padding through some of the white stuff. Bear tracks in the snow! Also (channeling the inner Cliff Clavin in all of us) here's a little-known fact: Bears don't really hibernate. They go into what's called a torpor, which is basically "hibernating lite." They're easily roused, so all of those movies you've seen in which a group of kids sneaks into a bear's den during the winter? Not a good idea.
Myth: I should play dead when encountering a bear.
Busted! That's the tactic for grizzlies, not black bears. You should do just the opposite. The black bears we have in Northern Minnesota will most likely run away if you encounter them while hiking or camping. If it doesn't, stay calm. Don't run. Talk loudly, hold your arms out to the side and wave them up and down, and back away slowly. It'll get the message that you're human, not prey, and not worth messing with.
Myth: If my food is in a cooler at my campsite, it's safe from bears.
Busted! Hang food 10 feet off the ground and five feet from trees, NEVER have food in your tent (even in a cooler), and keep cooking supplies 100 yards away from your tent. Also, the clothes you wore to cook that steak over the fire now smell like it. Store them with the food, and never wear them to bed. Do we even need to say never have any food or food wrappers in your tent? That Snickers you tucked in your sleeping bag for a midnight snack is an open invitation for a bear to explore.
Myth: Bears attack if they sense fear.
Busted! Hey, everyone is scared when they suddenly find themselves up close and personal with a bear in the woods. But black bear attacks on humans are extremely rare. According to the North American Bear Center in Ely, no researcher has ever been attacked by a bear in 50 years and counting. The Minnesota DNR tells us that in all of recorded history, there have been six bear attacks in our state, none of them fatal.
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