Safety

Common sense and respect for wildlife will keep most wildlife viewers safe; however, the Kenai offers opportunities to have closer wildlife encounters than intended and to find oneself in wild lands within a short distance of well-traveled highways. Investing a few minutes before heading out to review this safety information may help you to be better prepared to avoid uncomfortable or even dangerous situations.

Safety in Bear Country

ALL OF THE KENAI IS BEAR COUNTRY
Most people who see a bear in the wild consider it a highlight of their trip. The presence of these majestic creatures is a reminder of how privileged we are to share some of the country’s dwindling wilderness.

Bears are curious, intelligent and potentially dangerous animals, but undue fear of bears can endanger both bears and people. Respecting bears and learning proper behavior in their territory will help so that neither you nor the bears will suffer needlessly. Keep the following "bear facts" in mind:

BEARS DON’T LIKE SURPRISES
If you are hiking through bear country, make your presence known—especially where the terrain or vegetation makes it hard to see. Make noise, sing, talk loudly or tie a bell to your pack. If possible, travel with a group. Groups are noisier and easier for bears to detect. Avoid thick brush. If you can’t, try to walk with the wind at your back so your scent will warn bears of your presence. Contrary to popular belief, bears can see almost as well as people, but trust their noses much more than their eyes or ears. Always let bears know you are there. Bears, like humans, use trails and roads. Don’t set up camp close to a trail they might use. Detour around areas where you see or smell carcasses of fish or animals, or see scavengers congregated. A bear’s food may be there and if the bear is nearby, it may defend the cache aggressively.


DON’T CROWD BEARS

Give bears plenty of room. Some bears are more tolerant than others, but everybear has a personal "space" — the distance within which a bear feels threatened. If you stray within that zone, a bear may react aggressively. When photographing bears, use long lenses; getting close for a great shot could put you inside the danger zone.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS: WHAT TO DO
If you see a bear, avoid it if you can. Give the bear every opportunity to avoid you. If you do encounter a bear at close distance, remain calm. Attacks are rare. Chances are, you are not in danger. Most bears are interested only in protecting food, cubs, or their "personal space." Once the threat is removed, they will move on. Remember the following:

Identify Yourself
Let the bear know you are human. Talk to the bear in a normal voice. Wave your arms. Help the bear recognize you. If a bear cannot tell what you are, it may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening. You may try to back away slowly diagonally, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground.

Female bears can be

fierce defenders of

their young. Getting

between a female

and her cubs is a

serious mistake. A

female bear may

respond aggressively

to any threat she

perceives to her cubs.

 

Don’t Run: You can’t outrun a bear. They have been clocked at speeds up to 35 mph, and like dogs, they will chase fleeing animals. Bears often make bluff charges, sometimes to within 10 feet of their adversary, without making contact. Continue waving your arms and talking to the bear. If the bear gets too close, raise your voice and be more aggressive. Bang pots and pans. Use noisemakers. Never imitate bear sounds or make a high-pitched squeal.

If Attacked If a bear actually makes contact, you have two choices: play dead or fight back. The best choice depends on whether the bear is reacting defensively or is seeking food. Play dead if you are attacked by a brown bear you have surprised, encountered on a carcass, or any female bear that seems to be protecting cubs. Lie flat on your stomach, or curl up in a ball with your hands behind your neck. Typically, a bear will break off its attack once it feels the threat has been eliminated. Remain motionless for as long as possible. If you move, and the bear sees or hears you, it may return and renew its attack. Rarely, lone black or brown bears may perceive a person as potential food. Fight any bear that follows you or breaks into a tent or building. Fight any black bear regardless of circumstances.

In most cases, bears are not a threat, but they do deserve your respect and attention. When traveling in bear country, keep alert and enjoy the opportunity to see these magnificent animals in their natural habitat.

BEARS ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR SOMETHING TO EAT Bears have only about six months to build up fat reserves for their long winter hibernation. Don’t let them learn human food or garbage is an easy meal. It is both foolish and illegal to feed bears, either on purpose or by leaving food or garbage that attracts them.

Cook away from your tent. Store all food away from your campsite. Hang food out of reach of bears if possible. If no trees are available, store your food in airtight or specially designed bear-proof containers. Remember, pets and their food may also attract bears.

Keep a clean camp. Wash your dishes. Avoid smelly food like bacon and smoked fish. Keep food smells off your clothing. Burn garbage completely in a hot fire and pack out the remains. Food and garbage are equally attractive to a bear so treat them with equal care. Burying garbage is a waste of time. Bears have keen noses and are great diggers.

If a bear approaches while you are fishing, stop fishing. If you have a fish on your line, don’t let it splash. If that’s not possible, cut your line. If a bear learns it can obtain fish just by approaching fishermen, it will return for more.
 

Safety in Moose Country

Moose are common year-round throughout the Kenai Peninsula. In addition to roaming the backcountry, they often venture into towns—where they munch on ornamental trees, stroll down suburban streets, and bed down beside houses. Local residents have learned to live with and (usually) enjoy the presence of these magnificent critters.

Moose are not inherently aggressive. However, an angry or frightened moose—weighing hundreds of pounds and equipped with a repertoire of powerful kicks and stomps—can be a lethal force. Each year in Alaska, more people are injured by moose than by bears. Enjoying moose safely means understanding some basic rules of etiquette.

Give moose plenty

of space—at least

100 feet. When you

encounter a moose,

make sure both you

and the animal have

options for a digni-

fied, safe retreat.

 

• Give moose plenty of space—at least 100 feet. When you encounter a moose, make sure both you and the animal have options for a dignified, safe retreat.

• If a moose doesn’t yield as you approach, give it the trail.

• Never get between a cow moose and her calf.

• Watch carefully for signs that a moose is upset: if t raises its hackles (the hairs on the top of its shoulders), pins its ears back like an angry horse, or licks its lips repeatedly, you’re too close. Back away slowly, keeping your eye on the animal.

• If you are charged by a moose, keep a tree or other large object between yourself and the animal. If you are in the open, run away—moose do not usually chase for very far.

 

Driving on the Kenai

Although it’s not nearly as remote as some regions of Alaska, the Kenai Peninsula is a much "wilder" driving experience than many are accustomed to. Many roads—even the major highways—are narrow, steep, and winding. Some sections have no services for dozens of miles. Weather conditions, especially in fall, winter and spring, can change quickly and dramatically, and roads can be extremely icy or snowy in the cold seasons.

To ensure a safe trip, plan ahead. Familiarize yourself with your route ahead of time, and carry good maps. It’s a good idea to bring along an emergency kit that includes food, warm clothes, some sort of signal device, and first aid materials. A cell phone can be a lifesaver, but be aware that cell phone coverage is not uniform on the peninsula. If you’re traveling in winter, add a shovel, blankets, ice scraper and extra warm clothes to your kit.

 

Riparian Conservation

An important issue in wildlife conservation—and a particularly prominent issue on the Kenai Peninsula—is streambank and riverbank conservation. As more and more people are drawn to the region’s waterways for fishing and recreation, the impacts of thousands of boot-prints and boat hulls add up. When streamside vegetation is lost, erosion increases, shelter disappears, and the ability of the stream to support life is weakened. As you explore the peninsula’s streams and rivers, you’ll come across efforts to stop, or even reverse, the effects of trampling. You may see temporary fencing or revegetation projects, or encounter areas that have been closed to public access to give the stream a chance to heal itself. Please respect these areas—they’re in place to ensure that Alaska’s rivers will continue to provide healthy homes for wildlife. As you walk along any stream, try to minimize your impacts: walk on established trails or choose hard surfaces such as rock or sand for your off-trail expeditions. Avoid trampling riverbank plants. Avoid muddy banks whenever possible.

 

Hiking & Paddling Safety

The Kenai Peninsula is a backcountry travelers paradise. Hundreds of miles of trails stitch across a vast array of landscapes. Lakes, rivers and waterways invite paddlers. Here, you have the opportunity to step into a true wilderness —sometimes within just a mile or two of highways and houses. As you set out to explore, take some time to make sure your journey through this wild country is a safe and comfortable one.

Be prepared

• If possible, let someone know your planned route and estimated time of return.

• Carry plenty of gear to keep you warm, dry, fueled and hydrated.

Always pack extra gear in case you are delayed.

• Carry a small emergency kit, with waterproof matches, fire starter, a space blanket, and a small knife, in a separate place from your main backpack.

• Know your own limitations and don’t push them. When traveling with a group, keep to the pace and comfort level of the slowest member.

• If you’re planning to explore off-trail, a map and a compass are essentials, and a GPS unit is a good idea as well. But navigation equipment is only as useful as your understanding of it—make sure you’re thoroughly familiar with how it works before you start your hike.

Hypothermia is a lowering of the body’s core temperature. It’s brought on by exposure to cold with insufficient protection, such as when a lightly dressed hiker gets drenched in a cold rainshower and has no extra clothing to put on. Temperatures don’t need to be in the freezing range to cause hypothermia; temperatures in the 40s or even the 50s can contribute. Hypothermia is made worse by fatigue and stress. Untreated, a hypothermic person spirals into ever-lower body temperatures and will eventually die.

Signs of hypothermia:

• Uncontrolled shivering

• Loss of motor skills (clumsiness)

• Numbness and chilling of

extremities

• Slurred speech

• Dullness of perception/attitude

To treat hypothermia:

GET WARM. Add dry layers, increase physical activity, drink warm liquids.

• In case of advanced hypothermia (victim is conscious but losing mental clarity and motor skills), shelter the victim from wind and weather. Wrap him/her in a dry sleeping bag or a space blanket along with another warm person. Give warm liquids.

• If conditions worsen, get help immediately.


Giardia
Alaska’s mountain streams and lakes may seem pristine and pure, but some contain microscopic organisms called Giardia lamblia. A Giardia infection can cause severe diarrhea, cramps, nausea, and fatigue, ruining your vacation in a hurry. It only takes a few individual Giardia cysts to cause an infection. To avoid this very unpleasant disease, don’t drink "wild water" straight from the source. If you do need to partake of water from a stream or lake, use purification tablets or a water filter designed to remove or kill Giardia pathogens.
 
Staying Comfortable

The Kenai Peninsula’s climate is probably best described as "variable," but one constant is chilliness. Although July temperatures can occasionally range into the 80s, average summer temperatures at sea level hover in the 40s and 50s. Temperatures are usually lower at higher elevations. Frequent precipitation and winds add to the chill factor. Equipping yourself to stay warm, dry, and safe will allow you to spend more time watching animals, whether along the roadside or in the backcountry.

• Dress in layers, including "warm when wet" materials such as wool and fleece and an outside layer that blocks wind and water. Avoid cotton; it’s a very poor insulator. As you warm up, remove layers, and as you cool down, add layers.

• Bring a hat. Keeping your head warm can go a long way toward preventing hypothermia.

• Keep yourself hydrated and fed.

• Don’t over-exert yourself. Save energy for the return phase of your outing.

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