Last week, following a tip from bear experts, a few of us in the Indy newsroom eagerly searched Apple's iPhone App Store for the ScareBear Trail Companion. What we found was not the latest in bear deterrent technology but a really good midweek laugh.
ScareBear, which was created in 2009, mimics a number of sounds including handclaps, an air horn, and a tin can full of rocks. The program costs a buck, has more than two million Facebook "likes," and bills itself as "perfect for hikers, bikers, walkers, birdwatchers, and anyone who's trekking outdoors." Never mind that you can just as easily clap your own hands.
The ScareBear app joins a growing list of outlandish and comical "deterrents." As the late days of spring are already rife with wildlife conflicts, it's a safe bet at least one person out there might find out the hard way that cheap gimmicks won't stop pissed-off animals.
Don't count Chuck Bartlebaugh, head of the Center for Wildlife Information, as that one person. He's spent the last 30 years gathering information on human-bear conflicts and discussing his findings with state and federal biologists. He scoffs at some of the bear deterrents people have dreamt up.
"What's ridiculous is to run into someone in Glacier National Park testing a bullwhip on grizzly bears," Bartlebaugh says, referring to a man he bumped into three years ago. "First of all, what right do they have to go into a national park and find a passive grizzly bear to whip a bullwhip at?"
The gamut of untested and potentially disastrous deterrents Bartlebaugh's heard of runs long, from the widely recognized bear bell—also a feature on ScareBear—to the Super Soaker. Recently, someone's been advocating smoke-flares as a bear deterrent, Bartlebaugh says. Apparently the flares demonstrate to bears that man has control over fire.
If bears boast that kind of reasoning power, why not just carry a white flag? You'd think if fancy pyrotechnics were enough to make a startled griz turn tail, one shot from a handgun would demonstrate our human ingenuity tenfold. Tell that to the guy who fired two rounds into a charging sow on the Blackfoot last month before it finally halted.
Bartlebaugh says he's had nearly 100 run-ins with bears over the years. From his experience, common sense and two hefty cans of bear spray are the best defense.
Good luck retrieving an iPhone from a grizzly's stomach.