Maybe Some New Weapons. . . Against Bears?

Voice of the Times / Anchorage Daily News / February 21, 2004

THOSE FOLKS down in California who are worried about mountain lion attacks have concocted some new ways to protect themselves in the wild. We're not certain, however, that some of their suggestions would work against bears in Alaska.

For example, after one bike rider was killed and another seriously injured in separate cougar attacks in southern Orange County a few weeks ago, several biking clubs told their members to carry a stick or an air horn.

The noise of the air horns presumably would frighten the mountain lions and send them skittering into the bushes and trees. Maybe that would work with bears, too.

On the other hand, we doubt that hitting a cougar with a stick would do much good. And we're darn sure that a stick isn't likely to deter a bear.

One of the more innovative ideas to ward off a mountain lion attack is to put a decal resembling a pair of eyes on the back of bikers' riding helmets.

The theory is that cougars attack from the rear, but if they see a pair of eyes looking at them - phony or not - they will not attack.

That's another one that won't work with bears, we'd be willing to bet.

On the other hand, we do know that pepper spray- in certain circumstances - can work against bears.

Because of that, some California wilderness bikers are packing cans of pepper spray alongside their water bottles in their backpacks or around-the-waist carryalls.

But Lorna Bernard, an official with the California Department of Fish and Game, doesn't see this as a viable option.

"Mountain lions ambush their prey by attacking from behind," she told the Los Angeles Times. "If you're taken by surprise, you're not going to have much time to use pepper spray."

Her advice for those jumped by a cougar is "to use anything they have, including their bicycle, to fight the mountain lion off."

Another idea was put forward by Matthew Horns, a Los Angeles watershed management specialist. He thinks frightening the cougars will prevent future attacks.

He says some hunters have "scared the daylights" out of mountain lions by shooting in their direction without attempting to kill them.

"Lions are quite intelligent," he wrote in a column in the Times. "When they are afraid of people, we can coexist without conflict."

Now if we could just train our bears in the same way, Alaska would be a safer place. And you wouldn't have to rely on a stick.

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