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
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
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.
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
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:
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
to any threat she
perceives to her cubs.
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.
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.
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
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
Safety in Moose
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
• If a moose doesn’t yield as you approach, give it
• 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.
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
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.
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
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.
• If possible, let
someone know your planned route and estimated time of return.
• Carry plenty of gear to keep you warm, dry, fueled
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
• 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.
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
Signs of hypothermia:
• Uncontrolled shivering
• Loss of motor skills (clumsiness)
• Numbness and chilling of
• Slurred speech
• Dullness of perception/attitude
To treat hypothermia:
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.
mountain streams and lakes may seem pristine and pure, but some
contain microscopic organisms called
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.
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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