Everything You Need to Know About Bear Safety in Mammoth Lakes

Jul 14, 2021

One of the best parts of visiting Mammoth Lakes and the surrounding area is being in nature and experiencing wildlife. In Mammoth Lakes, wildlife includes the American black bear (the only bear species found in the area). Contrary to their name, American black bears can be any shade from black to brown to blonde. Seeing a bear in the wild is a spectacular experience as long as you know how to keep yourself and the bear safe.  

Unfortunately for wildlife, the influx of humans can be a problem. While black bears are not as dangerous or aggressive as grizzlies (found in other parts of the country), they can be a threat to people if they are not kept wild. When you visit Mammoth Lakes, do you part to help keep bears and other wildlife safe by protecting their natural environment and respecting their space. Here are a few tips on bear safety for camping and hiking while visiting Mammoth Lakes.

Don’t Feed the Bears

Leaving food out at camp for convenience sake or to invite smaller animals to your campsite might be tempting, but feeding wildlife (purposefully or inadvertantly) domesticates the animal. In the case of bears, domestication and can actually make them aggressive towards humans, which ultimately gets the bears into a lot of trouble and puts them in danger. Simply, do not feed the bears. Here are a few things to think about to avoid accidentally tempting a bear to search your campsite for food.

1. Practice safe food storage.

Even if you do not intend to feed the bears, leaving food unattended at your camp is irresponsible. Be diligent in food storage. Keep all food as well as scented toiletries, including soaps, shampoos and toothpaste, in food storage lockers (available at most campgrounds in the area) when you are not actively using the items. 

 2. Keep a clean camp.

Cooking outdoors is one of the great experiences of going camping. But if you’re not diligent about cleaning up all food scraps and wipe down cooking surfaces, you might be inviting an unwanted guest into your campsite. Even if no food is left out, bears will investigate the scent of food so a thorough cleanup is important.

3. Don’t cook or store food in your tent.

Not keeping food in your tent may seem like a no-brainer, but each year the forest service receives a number of reports of bears ripping through tent walls to find a candy bar that was inadvertently left in the pocket of a pair of hiking pants. As mentioned above, the lingering scent of food is enough to pique a bear’s interest, so keep food away from where you’ll be sleeping.

4. Secure all trash.

Food trash, scraps and other waste has a smell that bears are drawn to. Always secure your trash in locked dumpsters, securing the carabiner clip or whatever method is used to lock the receptacle. Do not leave trash outside your camp or in your car or tent.

5. Skip the bird feeders.

In the summer months when bears are active, there are plenty of natural food sources available to birds, and bears will surely get into bird feeders before long. If you enjoy birding, use a bird bath to attract birds to your RV (or wherever you’re staying) instead of a bird feeder.

6. Don’t leave scented items in your car.

Bears have an extraordinary sense of smell and are able to pry open car doors and windows with their claws. A miscellaneous food wrapper, food scrap, trash or sight of an ice chest is enough for a bear to break into your vehicle. Keep your car clean and free of anything scented, including non-food items such as air fresheners.

7. Use a bear canister for backpacking.

Most areas in the forest and wilderness surrounding Mammoth Lakes require bear canisters for backpacking. Some areas allow backpackers to hang and counter-balance food bags, however, bears are intelligent and have learned how to steal hanging food. Approved bear-resistant canisters are the best way to keep your food and the wildlife safe. Check with permit-issuing agency, such as the Inyo Forest Service, for regulations before you set out on your trip.

Keep Your Distance

American black bears are not typically aggressive, however, they are still wild animals. If you encounter a bear, keep your distance. Do not approach the bear. Use binoculars to see the animal up close. Keep yourself and your group safe with these tips. 

8. No bear selfies.

Snapping a photo with a bear might seem like a great way to make your friends jealous of your summer vacation, but getting close to and turning your back on the animal is not worth the risk. Rather than putting yourself in danger, keep your distance and use a zoom lens to take a photo.

9. Never get between a sow and cubs.

If you are lucky enough to encounter a sow (mom) and her cubs, keep your distance and be extremely cautious not to get in between them. Do not linger or approach the bears, rather slowly back away from the animals.. Moms are extremely protective of their cubs and can be more aggressive towards humans than adult bears might be on their own.

10. Make loud noises.

Time a bear spends in developed areas or around people the more habituated it becomes to humans, which is inherently dangerous for both humans and the animals. Although spotting a bear is exciting, you should discourage it from staying an campground or other areas inhabited by humans. To scare the bear away from make a lot of noise by yelling, clapping and banging on pots and pans.

11. Never surround a bear.

If you encounter a bear while with a group on the trail or in the campground, group together and give the bear an escape route.

12. Don’t run from a bear.

When encountering a bear do not turn and run. Hold your ground, stand tall and make noise, even if that means bluff charging with a huffing noise. To exit the scene, back away slowly. A running person only invites a chase and the bear will be faster no matter how quick of a runner you are.

13. Fight back if necessary.

American black bears are not typically aggressive, but can act aggressively when they feel threatened. In the rare chance of a bear attack, experts recommend rolling into a ball and protecting your head and neck with your arms. If the bear continues its aggression it is recommended to fight back. (Note: Recommendations regarding a bear attack are entirely different if you were to encounter a different species of bear, such as a grizzly, in other parts of the country.)

Monica Prelle

Monica Prelle is an outdoors, wine, and travel writer who would rather be running, climbing, or mountain biking. See more of Monica's posts here, read more of her work at monicaprelle.com and connect on twitter @monicaprelle

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