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We’re Hiring! Join our Team as the Production Intern

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Chelsea Green Publishing, independent Vermont book publisher, seeks Production Intern to start September 2, 2014. This will be a paid internship for 3-4 months if full-time, potentially longer if part-time. Applicants must have attention to detail and the ability to prioritize; experience with Adobe software is a plus.

Email cover letter and résumé to Patricia Stone, [email protected] No phone calls please.

Production intern assists Production Manager in handling reprints of Chelsea Green books and provides general assistance in all aspects of editorial production from manuscript to bound book and eBooks. Working independently and in support of the Production Manager, the ideal candidate will be able to focus on details of projects in a fast-paced work environment.

Responsibilities of the Position Include:

  • Provide general production assistance (scanning, file transmission, photocopying, filing, mailing, etc.).
  • Proofread corrections to pages and revised pages.
  • Review and reconcile author and editorial changes in manuscript and page proofs.
  • Upload files to printers and e-book distributors.
  • Format/tag manuscripts for submission to typesetter.
  • Participate in weekly project schedule meetings.
  • Request reprint corrections from authors for first reprints.
  • Copyedit and proofread reprint corrections, coordinate corrections with typesetter.
  • Review reprint corrections in printer proofs.

Position details:
24 to 40 hours/week for 3 to 4 months, paid, based in White River Junction, Vermont

Position Requirements:

  • Excellent organizational skills and attention to detail
  • Excellent writing and editing skills
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office applications Word, Excel, Outlook, and Acrobat Reader

About Chelsea Green Publishing:
For 30 years, Chelsea Green has been the preeminent publisher of books on the politics and practice of sustainable living, including organic gardening and agriculture, renewable energy, green building, eco-cuisine, and ethical business. We are a mission-driven, socially responsible company offering competitive salary and benefits. In 2012, we became employee-owned. We are a founding member of the Green Press Initiative and have been printing books on recycled paper since 1985, when our first list of books went on sale.

We’re Hiring! Join the Team as our Media & Publicity Intern

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Main Focus of Internship:

Communications/Media/PR

Position Description:

Since 1984, Chelsea Green has been the publishing leader for books on the politics and practice of sustainable living. We are a founding member of the Green Press Initiative and have been printing books on recycled paper since 1985, when our first list of books appeared. We lead the industry both in terms of content—foundational books on renewable energy, green building, organic agriculture, eco-cuisine, and ethical business—and in terms of environmental practice, printing 95 percent of our books on recycled paper with a minimum 30 percent post-consumer waste and aiming for 100 percent whenever possible. This approach is a perfect example of what is called a ”triple bottom line“ practice, one that benefits people, planet, and profit, and the emerging new model for sustainable business in the 21st century.

The Marketing and Publicity Intern will assist with outreach for all new Chelsea Green books, including author events, publicity outreach, and marketing research.

Tasks include:

  • Assisting with regular updating of upcoming author events and media appearances
  • Assisting with research of media and specialty sales outlets within distinct communities of interest
  • Assisting with data entry both using MS Excel as well as company databases
  • Assisting with maintaining our social media profiles
  • Assisting with writing content for our company blog
  • Taking meeting minutes
  • Assisting with publicity mailings to media, key industry VIPs

Top Three Qualifications for Intern:

  • Strong writing and communication skills
  • Detail oriented
  • Ability to multitask and meet deadlines

Skills, Attributes and Knowledge Desired:
The right candidate should be comfortable on the phone, using email and working in MS Word and other Microsoft Office products. A familiarity with Chelsea Green’s mission and focus on sustainable living, permaculture and environmental activism are a plus. The candidate should also be comfortable with doing computer research work, be a team player but able to work on independent-driven projects. Strong writing skills are also a plus, as well as being comfortable talking with people at events and conferences.

Additional Information/Comments:
Chelsea Green’s marketing and publicity department in Burlington is a fast-paced environment but supportive work environment. We are an employee-owned company and a pre-eminent publisher of books on sustainable living. Since 1984 we’ve held ourselves to high environmental standards and ethics and urge our competitors to do the same.

Position Details:
Start Date: September 3, 2014
Hours per week – 15-30 hours/week
Length: Fall Semester (possibly longer)
Pay: $10/hour
Location: Burlington, Vermont.

Email cover letter and résumé to Shay Totten, [email protected] No phone calls please.

We’re Hiring! Join the Team as our Editorial Intern

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Chelsea Green Publishing, independent Vermont book publisher, seeks Editorial Intern for help with administrative and editorial tasks, to start September 2, 2014. This will be a paid internship for a duration of 3-4 months if full-time, potentially longer if part-time. Applicants must have attention to detail, the ability to prioritize, an interest in sustainability and the following areas: sustainable agriculture, food, green building, renewable energy, social justice.

Email cover letter and résumé to Michael Metivier, [email protected] No phone calls please.

General Description
Editorial Intern is responsible for assisting the Assistant Editor in handling administrative, database, and clerical responsibilities for the Chelsea Green editorial department as needed.

Responsibilities

  • Support Assistant Editor with tasks including, but not limited to those listed below. Position will have opportunity to improve and expand skills/knowledge in day-to-day operations of an editorial department, and its function within a small independent publishing company.
  • Determine, under the guidance of the Assistant Editor or other editors within the department, the appropriate response to unsolicited submissions (slush), i.e. passing them on for further review or preparing a letter of rejection.
  • Assist editors with maintaining and updating book specs, blurber copy requests and other mailings, and other information on Quickbase.
  • Handling permissions inquiries and requests in a timely, organized manner.
  • Maintain Awards database in Quickbase and review it regularly, deleting awards that no longer exist or are inappropriate for our titles. Make award submission recommendations to the editors and handle all aspects of submissions and awards won.
  • Handle timely mailing of all complimentary copies on receipt of bound books.
  • General administrative tasks, including: conducting mailings (either from here or in concert with Sales Assistant and the warehouse), various editorial projects (manuscript organization, fact checking, research as requested); taking notes at editorial meetings and then distributing them to participants for review.
  • Assist sub-rights manager with administrative tasks related to: mailings; sending out and tracking review copy requests and payments; helping to maintain Quickbase systems for subrights as requested.
  • Provide general clerical support as requested.

Position Details: 24 hours/week for 3-4 months, paid $10/hour, based in White River Junction, Vermont.

Reports to: Assistant Editor

Qualifications: This is an internship for a motivated self-starter with a demonstrated interest in sustainability issues and publishing. Duties combine administrative and editorial functions and require the ability to work within a team environment as well as work independently. Must have: strong communication, writing, and interpersonal skills; ability to work in fast-paced, deadline-driven environment; strong computer skills and proficiency in Word and Excel; comfort with administrative tasks.

About Us: For almost 30 years, Chelsea Green has been the go-to publisher for people seeking foundational books on the politics and practice of sustainable living, including organic gardening and agriculture, renewable energy, green building, eco-cuisine, and ethical business. In 2012, we decided to practice what we publish and became employee-owned. We are a founding member of the Green Press Initiative and have been printing books on recycled paper since 1985, when our first list of books went on sale. We print our books on paper that consists of a minimum of 30 percent post-consumer waste and aim for 100 percent whenever possible. We also don’t print our books overseas, but rather use domestic printers to keep our shipping costs (and impact on the environment) at a minimum.

What is a Plant Guild?

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Technically speaking, a plant guild is “a beneficial grouping of plants that support one another in all their many functions,” and “support animals and humans for all their food, medicine, and utility needs.”

Ok, but…what exactly does that mean and, more importantly, how do you create a guild that is right for your food forest or permaculture project?

Enter three plant experts and permaculture designers, Wayne Weiseman, Daniel Halsey, and Bryce Ruddock, who have it all figured out and are in the mood to share.

“Each niche, yard, lot, or field has a long list of potential plants that will thrive there, and it is our task to define them, and design an ecosystem to support our and nature’s abundance,” write the authors.

Their book, Integrated Forest Gardening: The Complete Guide to Polycultures and Plant Guilds in Permaculture Systems is the first of its kind and will be of immeasurable benefit to permaculturalists of all abilities for years to come. A comprehensive book about plant guilds that answers specific questions like how to actually configure a guild, how to select the plants, what function each plant serves, and more.

Called “a rich feast of nature love” by Peter Bane (publisher, Permaculture Activist), Integrated Forest Gardening benefits readers of any scale.  Whether you are a permaculture designer and professional grower, or backyard gardener completely new to the concept of permaculture, you’ll find a wealth of information along with extensive color photography and design illustrations in this detailed guide to developing what is most basic to any permaculture system—plant guilds. Read Chapter 1 in the excerpt below.

Award-winning author Toby Hemenway believes, “Integrated Forest Gardening fills a major gap in the canon of permaculture books.”

“No longer is this subject mysterious and daunting,” writes Hemenway. “In this book we now have specific instructions for designing and installing multispecies plant groups. Chapter 7, which describes fifteen guilds and their plant members, is a golden nugget worth the price of the book alone.”

The idea of being able to take this book and replicate its principles in one’s own community, whether that be on a rural farm, or in a town or city, is exactly what the authors envisioned when they set out to write it. Their hope for this book is to cause a ripple effect, encouraging more people to embrace the vast potential of our plant world.

“Plant guilds are not limited to a few simple functions. You have ample opportunity to design and develop diverse guilds that focus on specific modalities: animal foods, oils, fibers, medicines, spices, endlessly. You might embed yield functions in a broad services guild, or you can design based on a particular theme that meets basic needs. Experiment, explore, ask yourself, What do I need for my family’s sustenance? Proceed from here.”

For more from the authors, check out their permaculture month where they answered questions submitted by readers. Learn about water harvesting ditches known as swales, the research behind plant guilds, and notes on implementing plant guilds based on differing water requirements:

Are Swales Right for You? – Wayne Weiseman
Plant Guild Research and Development – Bryce Ruddock and Daniel Halsey

Integrated Forest Gardening: Chapter One

One Man, One Wheel, and the Open Road

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Mark Schimmoeller’s Slowspoke: A Unicyclist’s Guide to America is about more than a cross-country trip on a unicycle; it’s a meditation on a way of life that Americans find increasingly rare: one that practices a playful, recalcitrant slowness. Award-winning author Janisse Ray (The Seed Underground) identifies with this pace.

“Schimmoeller’s narrative—of his slow and deliberate journey across the country, of his homesteading off-the-grid life in rural Kentucky, and of his battle to save old-growth forests from the developer’s ax—demonstrates that one’s worth is not defined by how much can be accomplished in five minutes, days, or even years, but by what is done with that time,” writes Ray in her foreword to Slowspoke.

She goes on to impress how important a book like this is for our throw-away society. “I really love Slowspoke. It has made me happier than any book in a long time, because it’s the kind of thinking that humankind needs right now, in that it asks that we claim what we value—what we believe in, what we call precious—and divine how to preserve it.” Read Ray’s full foreword, along with all of chapter 2, in the excerpt below.

Author Bill McKibben echoes Ray’s sentiment, “This is just the kind of epic we need right now—humble, sweet, and very deep indeed. As good a travel story—within and without—as you’ll read anytime soon!”

Schimmoeller’s writing style engages you right from the beginning. You feel an intimate connection with him as he guides you seemlessly through his past, present, and even subconscious recollections. “There are books like this that are so nice that, like Holden Caufield, you want to call up the author and tell him (or her) what a great job he (or she) has done,” writes a reviewer from RALPH Mag (The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and Humanities).

“This is not only the tale of a man on a unicycle, one who has turned his back on freeways and power plants and supermarkets and television. More, it’s a man who has honed a fine edge to what he has learned: what works, what doesn’t work, what you need, what you don’t need in life; details that end up making Slowspoke a classic.”

Why a unicycle? Why a cross-country trip? Why leave a prominent New York magazine and return to the simple life in Kentucky?

These are all logical questions you might find yourself contemplating when settling in to read Slowspoke. However, as Schimmoeller introduces you to his slow pace and draws you in to his simple world, answers are revealed.

“My parents gave me a unicycle for an Easter present when I was twelve,” Schimmoeller writes. “About the time my classmates began focusing on four wheels, I became obsessed with one. Unicyclists, it occurred to me, experience arrival less often than others. They must become devotees of anticipation. Rushing, I learned under the tutelage of my unicycle—whether down the driveway or toward adulthood—would cause a fall. Instead, after school and on the weekends, my task was to dwell in inefficiency, to wrinkle speed, to arrive somewhere only after much ambling about.”

Written with poise and humor, Slowspoke earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, who described it as a, “profoundly simple, funny, and sincere memoir.”

Anyone who has gone back to the land or wondered if they could, who has slowed down to experience life at a unicycle’s speed or who longs to do so, who has fallen in love, who has treasured tall trees or mourned their loss, will find a voice in Slowspoke.

Slowspoke: A Unicyclist’s Guide to America is on sale for 35% off until August 7th.

Slowspoke: Foreword and Ch 2

“Marijuana is Safer” Authors Influence The New York Times

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

The New York Times has launched a seven-part editorial campaign urging a repeal of the nation’s prohibition on marijuana, making the case that “marijuana is safer” than alcohol. In fact, the bold quote at the center of their editorial stated even more bluntly: “Marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol.”

Chelsea Green authors, and nationally recognized marijuana-policy experts Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert, wrote the book on the “Marijuana Is Safer” message. Literally. In fact, they were consulted by Times’ editorial writers in the months leading up to the launch of this important call-to-action by one of the world’s most influential media outlets.

First published in 2009, Marijuana is Safer: So Why are We Driving People to Drink? was updated and expanded in late 2013 with a first-hand look at the historic Colorado marijuana legalization campaign and new information about how supporters can model similarly successful efforts in other states. The book also provides updated research that supports the position that marijuana is safer than alcohol. You can read an excerpt from this game-changing book below.

In 2012, voters in Colorado shocked the nation’s political establishment by making the commercial production, personal use, and retail sale of marijuana legal for anyone in the state twenty-one years of age or older.

The New York Times said Washington should take its cue from Colorado and the growing list of states that have also legalized marijuana. In their opening salvo, the paper’s editorial board writes: “It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol. … “There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco. Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults.”

The board backs legalization for ages 21 and older only, and believes that a national solution is needed rather than left to the whims of a particular occupant in the White House or state-by-state piecemeal approach to what is a national issue. The Times is examining and dispensing with many of the myths related to marijuana use, including public safety and health—key issues explored in Marijuana is Safer.

In Marijuana is Safer—through an objective examination of marijuana and alcohol, and the laws and social practices that steer people toward the latter—the authors pose a simple yet rarely considered question: Why do we punish adults who make the rational, safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol?

Marijuana Is Safer introduces readers to the cannabis plant and its effects on the user, debunks some of the government’s most frequently cited marijuana myths, and, most importantly, provides persuasive arguments and talking points for the millions of Americans who want to advance the cause of marijuana policy reform and educate friends, neighbors, family, coworkers, elected officials, and, of course, future voters.

Now, one of the world’s most widely read and influential opinion pages is adding to the growing chorus of voices calling for an end to the nation’s prohibition on marijuana.

In an AlterNet article, Tony Newman summed up why this is such a big deal: “The Times’ editorial has the feel of legendary CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite coming out against the Vietnam War. They dropped a bomb on our country’s disastrous war on marijuana with unprecedented force. Some people think of the Times‘ editorial page as a liberal mouthpiece — but when it comes to marijuana prohibition and the drug war, they’ve been extremely cautious and conservative. In previous decades, the Times did as much as any other media outlet to legitimize drug war hysteria and its disastrous policies.”

Along with its ongoing series, the Times has included a fun graphic illustrating its own editorial evolution in regards to marijuana.

Earlier this year, Pres. Barack Obama told The New Yorker‘s David Remnick that he doesn’t think marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol.

The times they are a changin’.

 

Chapter Two: Pot 101: Understanding Marijuana by Chelsea Green Publishing

DIY: Make Whole Fruit Jam

Monday, July 28th, 2014

The supply of fresh summer fruit is about to be in abundance and before you know it, apples and pumpkins will abound.

If you’re lucky and berries or stone fruits are providing a bountiful array of flavor, try this easy method of preserving them: whole fruit jam.

This recipe relies on the natural sugars in fruit to provide a balanced flavor and sweetness in this complimentary spread.  Preserve the last of your seasonal fruit simply – no added sugar and no freezing.

The following is an excerpt from Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning by the Gardeners and Farmers of Terre Vivante:

Sugar is a practical and economical method of food preservation—so much so that we tend to overindulge, and make jams that contain more sugar than fruit! When we discover that excess sugar is one of the great scourges of the modern diet, we might think it best to renounce jams completely. Besides, replacing white sugar with brown sugar is only a relative improvement. Whole or raw sugar (evaporated juice from sugar cane) would be a better substitute, but its strong flavor often masks the taste of the fruit.

The solution to this problem is twofold: avoid eating too much jam and other sugary foods, and make these foods using far less added sugar, or none at all. Knowing and applying these techniques, we can continue to preserve food properly and successfully. For example, certain jams made with very little sugar must be refrigerated once opened, preferably in small jars, to prevent premature spoilage. For those recipes that require sugar, we will use either brown or whole sugar. Other recipes are “sugar-free,” or use honey instead.

Note that the term “sugar-free jam” in essence is a contradiction in terms, since by definition, sugar is the preservative agent in jams. To be more precise, we should discuss “jams with no added sugar.” In reality, jam already contains sugar: both glucose and fructose, which naturally occur in all fruit.

Jams with no added sugar were not invented by health-food advocates wanting to reduce their sugar consumption. These preserves are an old tradition dating back to a time when sugar was scarce and expensive (or even nonexistent). Three classic examples, and the most commonly known jams of this type, are pommé (apple jelly), poiré (pear jelly), and raisiné (grape jelly). The first two have been made for centuries in certain regions of northern Europe, particularly Belgium and Germany, whereas the raisiné is a tradition of Périgord in southwestern France. Carob “honey” is a similar preserve that is found in the Middle East, Galilee (recipe follows in this chapter). All these preserves share this common feature: They are made from the juice only, and not from the whole fruit. Thus, they are jellies or thick syrups, rather than jams. Their preparation is based on this simple principle: Prolonged cooking evaporates enough water to concentrate enough of the naturally occurring sugars for preservation to take place. Jams from whole fruit can also be prepared by following the same principle. In general, after pouring hot jam or jelly into a jar and sealing it, turn the jar upside down. This will sterilize any air remaining in the jar and ensure preservation. It’s also a good idea to store the jars upside down.

Whole Fruit Jam
Very ripe fruit (any type)
A preserving pan or large saucepan
Canning jars and lids

This method is good for all types of fruit, including grapes, greengage plums, and so on. Use fruit that is very ripe; simply cut and crush it roughly. Bring the fruit to a boil; then cook it over very low heat for a very long time.

It is impossible to recommend a precise cooking time, since this depends on the type of fruit used, and its ripeness and water content, both of which vary from one year to the next. In any case, you should allow as much water as possible to evaporate. Stir often, because certain fruits have a tendency to stick during cooking. The jam is ready when it does not run off of the spoons but forms a bead that sticks to the spoon. At this stage pour the jam into scalded screw-top jars. It will keep for at least two years.

Recipe: Ginger Beer

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Ginger is a spice perfect for any time of year. Its fragrance can perk up everything from chai tea to apple pie. This humble root can also add a gentle kick of heat to stir fries or soups.

The natural yeasts in the root can also be used to kick start a bubbly ginger beer. Give it a try!

The following recipe is from Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, by Sandor Katz.

This Caribbean-style soft drink uses a “ginger bug” to start the fermentation. I got this idea from Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions. The ginger bug is simply water, sugar, and grated ginger, which starts actively fermenting within a couple of days. This easy starter can be used as yeast in any alcohol ferment, or to start a sourdough.

This ginger beer is a soft drink, fermented just enough to create carbonation but not enough to contribute any appreciable level of alcohol. If the ginger is mild, kids love it.

TIMEFRAME: 2 to 3 weeks

INGREDIENTS (for 1 gallon/4 liters):

  • 3 inches/8 centimeters or more fresh gingerroot
  • 2 cups/500 milliliters sugar
  • 2 lemons (or limes)
  • Water

PROCESS:

  1. Start the “ginger bug”: Add 2 teaspoons (10 milliliters) grated ginger (skin and all) and 2 teaspoons (10 milliliters) sugar to 1 cup (250 milliliters) of water. Stir well and leave in a warm spot, covered with cheesecloth to allow free circulation of air while keeping flies out. Add this amount of ginger and sugar every day or two and stir, until the bug starts bubbling, in 2 days to about a week.
  2. Make the ginger beer any time after the bug becomes active. (If you wait more than a couple of days, keep feeding the bug fresh ginger and sugar every 2 days.) Boil 2 quarts (2 liters) of water. Add about 2 inches (5 centimeters) of gingerroot, grated, for a mild ginger flavor (up to 6 inches/15 centimeters for an intense ginger flavor) and 11/2 cups (375 milliliters) sugar. Boil this mixture for about 15 minutes. Cool.
  3. Once the ginger-sugar-water mixture has cooled, strain the ginger out and add the juice of the lemons (or limes) and the strained ginger bug. (If you intend to make this process an ongoing rhythm, reserve a few tablespoons of the active bug as a starter and replenish it with additional water, grated ginger, and sugar.) Add enough water to make 1 gallon (4 liters).
  4. Bottle in sealable bottles: Recycle plastic soda bottles with screw tops; rubber gasket “bail-top” bottles that Grolsch and some other premium beers use; sealable juice jugs; or capped beer bottles, as described in chapter 11. Leave bottles to ferment in a warm spot for about 2 weeks.
  5. Cool before opening. When you open ginger beer, be prepared with a glass, since carbonation can be strong and force liquid rushing out of the bottle.

Do you like us? Join our Online Community

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Are you part of Chelsea Green’s growing online community?

We love sharing inspirational projects that will benefit your home, community and the planet. You can find recipesDIY projectsfood and gardening tips and be the first to learn about exclusive offersgiveawaysnew releases and more!

And now, you can follow us on Pinterest. We’ll share everything from backyard projects to homesteading basics, as well as staff favorites and so much more.

Share and Win with #mychelseagreen
We also have a new way for you to connect and share with our vibrant online community of doers and makers. If you have a project inspired by a Chelsea Green book, share the project, the name of the book(s) and author(s) and use #mychelseagreen on any of our social media channels. Throughout the year we’ll pick random winners using the #mychelseagreen hashtag to receive special gifts from Chelsea Green in honor of our 30th anniversary.

Join the 30,000+ like-minded readers who already “like” us on Facebook, or the 20,000+ who follow us on Twitter, or the close to 75,000 who receive our e-newsletter. You’ll be inspired, learn and be part of a diverse community that is dedicated to living more sustainably and caring for our planet. From your sharing friends at Chelsea Green Publishing.

Stop Inviting Bears to Dinner

Monday, July 21st, 2014

As conflicts between humans and black bears continue, it seems the message “Don’t feed the bears” bears repeating.

Just this month, a man in Montgomery, VT was charged by the Fish & Wildlife Department for allegedly feeding bears. It was the first time that a person has been charged under a new law in Vermont that makes feeding bears illegal. Listen to the full story on NPR here.

Ben Kilham, author of In the Company of Bears: What Black Bears Have Taught Me About Intelligence and Intuition, knows a thing or two about dealing with bears both at home and in the wild. He recently told the Concord Monitor that he’s seen an increase in the number of abandoned cubs delivered to his bear rehabilitation facility due to mothers being shot and killed after getting into backyard chicken coops. “That has had the biggest impact on us, without any questions,” Kilham said. “Unprotected chicken coops are crazy – we live in bear country. An electric fence can solve that problem.”

In this excerpt from In the Company of Bears, Kilham provides more insights on best practices when it comes to keeping bears from feeding at your back door, and offers his tried-and-true tips on what to do if you encounter a bear in the wild.

*****

Up to 900,000 black bears live in North America, and in many regions, like my own, they live in close proximity to humans. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that in many regions humans live in close proximity to bears—and that we are moving deeper and deeper into their habitat all the time. So, it’s not surprising that bears and people meet up unexpectedly, and frequently. But of the millions of interactions between bears and people every year, very few result in human deaths.

Bears, on the other hand, have not been so lucky. Many are shot, either as a fear-based first resort or after other techniques have failed to deter what we’ve come to call “nuisance” bears. These are the bears that wander into backyards, campgrounds, landfills, or other places where food is often lying around. People can and sometimes do get injured by these nuisance bears, but even these incidents could be mitigated by understanding how to read and understand bear behavior. Not only would this knowledge help officials deal more effectively and humanely with nuisance bears, but it would also help individuals who find themselves in bear–human encounters.

In short, the solution to the nuisance bear problem is not so much about managing bears; it’s about managing people.

Stop inviting bears to dinner 

First, the best way to end what we consider the nuisance–bear behavior is to just stop inviting bears to dinner. If the food sources in problem residential areas are reduced to a minimum, these areas will no longer be worth the risk to the bear and the problems will cease. How to do this?

    • Remove bird feeders, and any other food placed outside to attract wildlife.
    • Don’t feed pets outside.
    • Keep any livestock feed indoors.
    • Don’t put kitchen scraps in your garbage can. Composting your kitchen scraps in a smell-proof way is as good for the environment as it is for avoiding bear encounters. Try a bear-proof composting container, or an indoor vermiculture bin (in which worms help digest the waste). Or, if you’re using an open compost pit outside, layer fresh waste underneath material that is already decomposed, or add a layer of lime, wood ash, or sawdust to mask the odor that can draw a bear’s interest.
    • If you cannot compost, then secure your garbage can in an indoor area, such as a garage, or freeze your garbage until it’s time for disposal.
    • Use bear-resistant food containers while camping, never keep food of any kind in your tent, and follow local guidelines for cooking or disposing of anything that smells of food, even the water you’ve used to wash your pots, pans, and dishes.
    • Clean outdoor grills, barbeque pits, and coolers after use to remove odors.
    • Remember, the secret to controlling bears is controlling smell.

It’s no surprise, then, that when people do start feeding bears, it ends badly. They get into a situation that they can’t stop by themselves. There are, though, nonlethal measures that can be used to resolve the issue.

With bears and people encountering each other more and more frequently, it is essential to understand how to properly handle an unintended meeting in the backyard or on a hiking trail. The vast majority of all bear aggression toward people is protective, not predacious, and it is entirely possible for people to manage these protective encounters without injury. A key to doing so is to understand how bears communicate.

The most important thing to understand is that when a bear wants to intimidate you, keep you at a safe distance, or otherwise modify your behavior, it will square off its lips—drawing them forward so that they appear square and the face looks long. Then it will perform any of the following behaviors in varying degrees of intensity: chomping its teeth or lips, snorting or woofing (blowing air through the nose or mouth), huffing (inhaling and exhaling air rapidly), swatting, or false charging. These are actions that bears take to help reduce the chance of attack whenever two unfamiliar individuals come together. However, this behavior does not reflect the bear’s true mood. Bears are able to turn this behavior on and off like a light switch. They are simply trying to delay confrontation long enough for communication to take place.

Moods, on the other hand, come and go very slowly. It is therefore necessary to analyze the bear’s mood when it is not displaying these behaviors, its intentions when it is, and then to apply both to the context of the situation. This may be a tough concept to apply in the field, but a necessary and important one to understand. Being faced with a bear that false charges or bluffs is actually a good thing as it means you have time to analyze the bear’s intentions and modify its displeasure or fear.

How do you know the bear is false-charging and not attacking?

The false-charge is done in combination with other bluff displays, like chomping, huffing, and snorting. Depending upon the situation, this usually reflects the bear’s desire to delay or avoid direct confrontation.

However, if you find yourself in such a situation and act in a reckless manner while the bear is within critical distance—as when a bear holds its ground and displays rather than flees—you can escalate this kind of situation into an attack. Reckless behavior would include breaking sticks, yelling or screaming, making yourself big by raising or waiving one’s arms, or basically doing anything in which you could not anticipate a correct response. A safe response would be to de-escalate the situation by standing erect and speaking softly to the bear, thus signaling to the bear that you are dominant but not a threat.

When you have an encounter with a bear, it is always important to try to put yourself in the bear’s shoes.Does the bear have any reason to harm you? Have you provoked the bear intentionally or unintentionally? Is the bear already nervous about other bears in the area? Remember that bears, like all other animals, including humans, have four major drives: hunger, love, fight, and flight. These drives are usually in conflict with each other.

How Close Are You?

It is also important to assess just how close you are to the bear. While it’s always important not to take any action that leaves you unable to predict the reaction of the bear, it is particularly important if you and the bear are in close proximity (normally less than twenty-five feet) and the bear appears reluctant to leave. This twenty-five foot distance is known as the “critical distance” outside of which bears and many other animals are likely to flee. Within this distance, they are hesitant and uncertain as to whether they should act in self-defense or flee.

A conflicted bear in this situation will act as described above. My advice is to stand erect with eyes toward the bear. Do not attempt to stare the bear down but rather maintain a normal facial expression and speak softly. Standing erect and keeping eyes toward the bear will keep him or her honest. Bears, like dogs and humans, may choose to enforce dominance when the opportunity arises. If you show weakness (by lowering your eyes, turning your back to them, lying down on the ground, or showing fear), it increases the chance that they will take advantage and advance on you.

My advice to keep your eyes on the bear conflicts with almost every other message given about what to do when you are in close proximity to a bear. I look at the bear to remain dominant while I decrease the threat level with my voice. Others will argue that you should avert your stare because a direct stare is aggressive and may provoke an attack. My experience tells me that this is not the case with bears. Animals that live in group-social environments often have hard, top-down hierarchies. A stare at an alpha chimpanzee or wolf may be perceived as a challenge to its position of authority. Bears are different; they interact and cooperate with strangers on a regular basis and are used to negotiating with unfamiliar individuals.

Baby Bears

The bear that gets too close is usually a sow with cubs. Her concern is the threat you present. She is perfectly capable of assessing that threat. Give her a chance, and she will walk away from you, sometimes even leaving her cubs up a tree nearby. I have been inside that critical distance with more than thirty wild sows with cubs, been false-charged and circled (bears circle to check scent, to see who you are), and have then gone on to peacefully spend up to two and a half hours with them. Every female will exhibit a different level of aggressiveness. Most of the wild sows and cubs I have encountered ran, hid nearby, and waited for me to leave. There are many myths about sows with cubs—the prevailing one being that if you get between a sow and its cub you are toast. The reality is that sows with cubs have been responsible for only 3 percent of the fatal attacks on humans in the last 109 years. Their cubs are usually safely up a tree when close encounters occur. Having preconceived ideas in your head at these times will only make it more difficult to control the situation.

So, imagine that you meet a sow with cubs on a trail. You are torn between running and standing your ground. She is torn between running and defending her cubs. She would like to run, but her cubs are up a tree. She chooses to display aggressively in an effort to prevent you from attacking. You would like to run, but you know that she can run faster. You try to relax, knowing that fearful behavior could be seen as a threat. You speak softly to her as a gesture of appeasement. She acknowledges your gesture by reducing the intensity of her displays. Be patient. Eventually, she will stop displaying altogether and her true mood will be revealed with a relaxed facial expression. Slowly, she will walk off. For obvious reasons, the drive to escape is generally stronger than the drive to fight. She knows a fight could leave her wounded or dead. Yelling and screaming to drive away a female bear away, on the other hand, may inadvertently frighten her cubs and escalate the situation.

If you meet a male bear, the situation may go somewhat differently, but the same advice about handling the encounter applies. Male bears are much more likely to run off than be caught inside the critical distance. If you see a bear coming in your direction, it is a good idea to let it know that you are there. Bears read scent in the wind, but sometimes the wind is coming from the wrong direction and a bear may be completely unaware of your presence. Let the bear know that you are there by moving, talking to it, or making other noise; it will run off.

But there are situations where attacks are more likely. A bear that is surprised while eating–or while its senses are otherwise compromised—may strike out without warning. For instance, a bear feeding on a carcass is highly concerned that other bears may be attracted to the carcass by smell and is preconditioned to attack. A person who suddenly appears in this situation may trigger that preconditioned attack.

Bears are highly tolerant of humans

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bear encounters every year where humans do everything wrong without any negative response from the bear. It’s important to remember, though, that in the vast majority of cases, black bears are dangerous only if you make them so. The situation is in your control; they tend to signal their intentions, and you can modify your own behavior to influence theirs.


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