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Outdoor Survival Tips for Bear Country

A basic rule on what to do when encountering a bear in the wilderness is so common, it’s long been a mantra: “If it’s brown, you lie down. If it’s black, you fight back.”

But there’s a caveat for run-ins with brown — or grizzly — bears. The idea is to play dead only after a brown bear has struck or is about to, not before, wildlife biologist Pat Owen said Tuesday, following an attack on a female hiker last week at Alaska’s Denali National Park.

“The right thing to do is not drop until that bear is practically on top of you,” said Owen, who teaches bear safety training at the park.

The woman survived, but the Friday bear attack was among the latest in the U.S. Just days before, a man was killed by a grizzly bear while mountain biking near Montana’s Glacier National Park last week. At least three others have been reported this year.

Bear attacks are rare, although the chances of being injured by one multiply in the backcountry. For example, 45 people were injured by bears at Yellowstone National Parkbetween 1980 and 2014 out of the nearly 100 million visitors to the park during that time.

Some tips to keep in mind when enjoying the outdoors in Bear Country this summer:

GRIZZLY GRAY AREA

The 28-year-old woman attacked at Denali was hiking a trail with two friends Friday evening when they saw the bear. Park officials said the bear charged and the three immediately played dead. The bear bit and scratched the woman before walking away. The animal returned a few minutes later and one of the hikers threw rocks at it. Park officials said later playing dead is appropriate when physical contact has happened or is imminent. But done prematurely, Owen said, the bear can grow curious.

The problem, Owen said, is the definition of imminent. “Your perception of imminent contact and my perception of imminent contact might be vastly different,” she said.

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