Appreciate the animals from a reasonable distance.
“One of the great things about heading outdoors is experiencing the magic of the wildlife,” says Matt Skoglund, director of NRDC’s Northern Rockies office. While human‒animal conflicts are rare, you still have to be smart. If you see a bison, moose, or mountain lion at close range, for example, don’t try to feed it, approach it, or, for Pete’s sake, take a selfie with it. (Bison, one of the biggest attractions for the more than four million tourists who come to Yellowstone each year, have injured more people than any other animal in the park, according to the NPS.) “Give the animal some space, use common sense, and also use your senses,” says Skoglund. In other words, stay vigilant while on the trail by carefully observing your surroundings, keeping your ears perked (and definitely earbud-free), and taking note of any whiff of wildlife along the way.
Of course, animals are able to sense you, too. For bears, smell is the sharpest sense, spanning miles, and this means that for the most part, they can (and will) easily avoid you. As a result, while bears (especially grizzlies) inspire particular fear, sightings are rare, Skoglund says. If you do encounter a grizzly at close range, he says, “stay calm and don’t run away. Take a few slow steps back and talk calmly to it. It will most likely turn and walk the other way. If not, and it charges you, use your bear spray—the most effective method of deterring an attack.”
If you do encounter an ursine, it’ll much more likely be a black bear. “There are about 800,000 to 900,000 black bears in North America—that’s 15 times the number of grizzly bears,” says Stephen Matthew Herrero, professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Calgary and the author of Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. There are hundreds of thousands of encounters between bears and humans each year, but only one to three deaths. (Often the more violent encounters are triggered by dogs surprising or barking at bears; keeping Fido on a leash helps.) “In most cases, as soon as the bear senses you, it will leave,” Herrero says. Otherwise, if it shows signs of stress—huffing loudly or swatting a paw at the ground—simply back away slowly. Don’t run, or it may instinctively chase you.