Bears and industrial workers

Information on how to make industrial camps less attractive to bears, and how industrial workers can stay safe in bear encounters.

A bear's attraction to garbage can be a challenge for industrial camps. Learn more about what makes bears tick in this video produced by the Oil Sands Development Group:

The new Industry BearSmart Program provides strategies to reduce attractants at worksites and education tools for workers to minimize human-bear encounters. The program focuses on two primary components: the industrial camps where workers are housed and the safety of the individual employees working in bear habitat.

Camps operating within bear habitat from April 1 to November 30 should complete a "Bear-Human Conflict Management Plan for Camps", based on the size and duration of the camp operation. These plans allow a systematic check of BearSmart action steps to prevent conflicts.

All workers in bear habitat shall be aware of bears and receive training in preventative safety measures.

A key consideration in preventing bear-human encounters is understanding what motivates bears and how they can become reliant or conditioned to human food sources.

Bear safety for industrial camps

How do conflicts with bears at industrial camps start?

  • Human habituation occurs when bears learn to tolerate people, even though their natural behaviour pattern is to be wary of them. They learn this tolerance after they have repeated contact with people without having negative experiences.
  • Human-food conditioning is a level of human habituation that occurs when a bear learns to associate people with food. A food-conditioned animal actively searches for food, usually garbage or other attractants, in areas frequented by people. If a bear has no negative experiences associated with foraging for human food, this behaviour may be repeated continuously as long as the animal receives the positive reward of food.
  • Human-bear conflicts most often involve animals that are both human-habituated and human-food conditioned.

How can we prevent bears from becoming human habituated or food-conditioned?

  • Never allow a bear to feel comfortable in or around human-use areas. When a bear is comfortable in or around human-use areas, its continual search for food may bring it to a camp, facility or vehicle where it can find garbage or other human food sources. If the bear has no negative experiences to associate with its behaviour, it will repeat the behaviour. A bear that acts on this learned behaviour can be a significant threat to human safety and property.
  • Set boundaries for bears (e.g., 400 metres from camp or facility) and do not let a bear encroach within the set boundary.
  • Use negative experiences or devices to chase the bear away, such as air horns or bear bangers.
  • Even if there is no immediate threat, do not let the bear feel comfortable around people or human-use areas.
  • Ensure the bear cannot access human food sources. Secure all food and garbage in bear-proof containers or buildings.
  • Never feed any wildlife.
  • Do not remain in proximity to a bear to watch or photograph it. Doing so increases the likelihood of the bear becoming habituated to humans.

What might attract a bear to a work camp?

Bears are attracted to anything that has an odour:

  • Garbage
  • Human food
  • Pet food
  • Petroleum products such as oil and gasoline
  • PPE (personal protective equipment) such as helmets, gloves and chainsaw pants
  • Unclean barbeques

How should these things be stored?

  • Anything that has an odour needs to be secured in a bear-resistant building or container.
  • Vehicles and sheds with unsecured doors are not considered bear-resistant.

Is bear-proof electric fencing effective?

Yes. Electric fencing is a proven method for creating an effective barrier between bears and a camp or worksite.

An electric fence which is properly constructed and maintained is a key preventative tool to

  • protect workers
  • reduce the human or food-conditioning of a bear
  • reduce the need for management actions which can result in the needless death of a bear

Where should work camps be located?

  • Camps should not be located along
    • creeks
    • rivers
    • lakeshores
    • wildlife travel lanes/corridors
  • Camps should be located on
    • industrial locations
    • clearings that afford a good distance of sight between facilities and forest cover
    • sites that offer maximum sightlines to allow workers to see bears long before they reach the facilities

What are other BearSmart practices for industrial camps?

  • Never allow pets to roam freely.
  • Ensure food or garbage is never left in vehicles.
  • Have a bear reporting and response plan in place before an incident occurs.
  • Inspect meeting areas and parking lots daily and regularly clean garbage facilities to ensure they are clear of bear attractants.
  • Have BearSmart informational materials available for each worker so they are aware of the presence of bears and preventative measures to reduce encounters.

Bear safety information for workers in bear habitat

What signs should I be looking for?

Fresh signs that indicate recent bear activity:

  • Areas where bears could be feeding:
    • Animal carcasses
    • Bee yards
    • Berry patches
    • Digging sites
    • Garbage pits
    • Grain fields
  • Overturned logs or dug-up anthills
  • Ravens, magpies, crows or jays. These birds could be at a carcass or gut pile that may have also attracted a bear.
  • Scat
  • Tracks

Be extra cautious during these times:

  • Carry bear spray and a noisemaker. Keep them on you and know how to use them.
  • If you see a bear, leave the area. Don't risk an encounter.
  • If working in a remote area, ensure food and garbage are secured in bear-resistant food containers.

If you encounter a bear

All bears are individuals, so all bear encounters will be unique. Serious attacks are rare, but you must always be cautious and alert when outdoors.

What should I do if I see a bear but the bear doesn't see me?

  • Don't attract attention. Leave the way you came without calling attention to yourself. Retreat slowly while keeping your eye on the bear.
  • If you have no choice but to move forward, give the bear as much space as you can.
  • Stay alert. Even if you think you are a safe distance away from the bear, remain quiet and alert. Continue watching for the bear until you reach your destination.

What should I do if I see the bear and the bear sees me?

  • Look around. If you see cubs or an animal carcass, the bear will want to protect them. If you see either, back away from them.
  • Back away. Leave the area the way that you came. Keep your eye on the bear without staring at it aggressively. As you back away, seek out a place of safety. Remember that both black bears and grizzly bears can climb trees, so if you do choose to climb a tree, go as high as you can.
  • Speak to the bear. Let the bear know you are human and not a prey animal.
  • Prepare to use your bear spray.

What is a defensive encounter?

A defensive encounter occurs when the bear is feeling stressed or threatened. It may have been surprised by your sudden appearance or feels you are a threat to itself, its cubs or its food source. In such an encounter, the bear may show some of the following behaviours:

  • Vocalizing, such as blowing, huffing, "woofing", growling or snapping its jaws
  • Flicking the ears back
  • Swatting the ground
  • Swaying the head
  • Making a bluff charge

What should I do in a defensive encounter?

Industrial workers have an important role in preventing human-bear encounters and bear mortalities. Don't let a careless moment result in an injury to you, your fellow employees or the needless death of a bear.

  • Prepare to use your bear spray.
  • Back away slowly without turning your back to the bear.
  • If the bear charges, do not run. Stand your ground. A bear may come very close to you when making a bluff charge, and it may make more than one bluff charge. NEVER run. Remember that bluff charges are made to communicate that you've invaded the bear's space and it wants you to move off. The majority of charges are, in fact, bluffs, and do not end with the bear making contact. Shooting the bear out of fear in bluff situations may result in the needless death of a bear.
  • When the bear approaches, use your bear spray:
    • At 9 to 15 m (30 to 50 ft) fire a warning blast for ½ to 1 second, aiming the bear spray slightly downward.
    • At 6 to 9 m (20 to 30 ft) fire 1 to 2-second blasts in continuous succession, aiming slightly downward in front of the bear's head until the bear leaves.
    • At 0 to 6 m (0 to 20 ft) fire 1 to 2-second blasts in continuous succession, aiming at the head or into the nose and mouth of the bear until the bear leaves.
  • Try to keep some bear spray in reserve. Always re-evaluate your situation.
  • After spraying the bear, back away. Keep the bear in sight as you leave the area, and stay alert. Bears may be attracted to the bear spray residue.
  • If the bear does make contact, play dead. Cover the back of your neck with your hands. Lie on your stomach with your legs anchored in the ground. If the bear rolls you over, roll back on to your stomach. Don't move until you're sure the bear has left the area.
  • Once the bear has stopped, remain quiet. Yelling at the bear may provoke it into a further attack.
  • Defensive attacks are short. If the bear has started to bite or if the attack is prolonged, it may have turned predatory (see below).

The bear sees me, is not showing signs of stress and is closing the distance. Why?

A bear that does not leave the area once it has detected you may be curious, looking for a handout, attempting to assert its dominance or be assessing you as a potential food source. In these cases, the bear is not showing signs of stress and is:

  • Staring intently
  • Circling around you to detect your scent
  • Remaining quiet
  • Approaching in a slow, hesitant manner
  • Keeping its head and its ears up

What should I do in these kinds of encounters?

  • Do not run. Prepare to fight with all means at your disposal. Do not play dead in a predatory encounter.
  • Make yourself look big and shout at the bear. Yell aggressively at the bear.
  • Use your noisemaker and bear spray. Continue to use your bear spray, even when in close contact with the bear.
  • If the bear makes contact, fight back as forcefully as you can.

Supervisors may also contact the nearest Fish and Wildlife office for further assistance in helping to ensure worksites are BearSmart.

  • Fish & Wildlife Office Contacts

Related Information

  • Bears and Industrial Workers

    The Open Government Portal record also includes the following document:

    • Bear-Human Conflict Management Plan for Camps

Web Resources

For information on the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) certified bear-resistant products, visit the IGBC website at: