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The bear necessities

No. 1: When in bear country, don’t do what ‘Dora the Explorer’ does.

A mother bear and two cubs rest in a tree in Altadena, Calif.

Nick Ut/AP

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"Dora the Explorer is stupid," my son told me when he was 5. "She runs from bears."

My first instinct was to defend her. Dora also rides in cars driven by squirrels, but she is kind, and, for a cartoon character, she has a good head on her shoulders. When Dora is afraid of something, she runs.

But then I realized my son wasn't talking about cartoon bears. Some of my safety lectures over the years must have hit their target, because the kid was right: Running from bears – real bears – is generally a bad idea.

Here in Montana, it's worth giving the matter some thought.

Like moms everywhere, I try to teach my children how to stay safe and healthy. They get lessons on the standard stuff, everything from avoiding alcohol to eating broccoli. But that's not enough. My kids also need to learn how to stay safe in the woods, which start, at least figuratively, just outside our back door.

So my children and I talk about hazards from lightning, hypothermia, fast water, bears, mountain lions, and my least favorite, gravity. Bears and mountain lions get special attention, as you're unlikely to find gravity leaving paw prints in the sand pile next to your children's Tonka trucks or killing a deer at the bottom of your sledding hill.

With the deer incident in mind, I recently checked our state wildlife agency's website for the latest on dealing with large predators. Their policy can't be condensed to one memorable sentence like "stop, drop, and roll." But one warning stands out: Don't run. Running makes us look like prey.

After "don't run," the advice for bear and mountain lion encounters diverges, and I'd encourage you to go straight to the experts if you think you may ever need it. But here's a quick summary: If you come across a mountain lion, pick up your kids, look big, make noise, and – if necessary – fight back. A friend who was charged by a mountain lion in Colorado survived unharmed by standing her ground, waving a stick, and yelling.


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