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Spend enough time in the backcountry, and you’re bound to cross paths with nature of the four-legged or slithery variety. Here are a few things you can do to make the encounter a friendly one:
Maintain your distance. Do your part to help keep wildlife wild by resisting the urge to share your sandwich with a curious chipmunk or lean in for a selfie with Mr. Mountain Goat. Not only is it dangerous to get too close, animals that lose their instinctive fear of humans are more likely to become aggressive and may end up hurting other hikers or being euthanized.
Don’t invite Yogi to dinner. Camping in bear country? Set up your tent at least 100 yards away from where you’ll be cooking. Store all food and scented items in your car, a bear canister or hang them on a sturdy tree branch at least 15 feet above the ground. Keep in mind that bears aren’t the only animals that might be curious about your camp — it’s more likely that a critter will gnaw through your pack to get to that energy-bar wrapper you forgot about hours ago.
Stay alert while hiking, especially at dawn or dusk. If you’re traveling near a loud stream or through thick brush, announce your presence by starting up a conversation with your hiking partner, singing your favorite show tune, or clapping your hands. Heading east of the Cascades? Watch out for rattlesnakes, which are common in many areas but won’t bite unless threatened.
Keep your cool. Compared to other states, Washington is relatively lacking when it comes to scary wildlife. Local hikers are more likely to encounter Sasquatch than a grizzly, and attacks by black bears are extremely rare. But if you happen upon a bear — especially a mama with cubs — you’ll want to respond calmly and intentionally. Back away slowly, avoiding direct eye contact and doing things like talking firmly and raising your hands above your head, so the bear can identify you as a human. If attacked by a black bear, fight back aggressively.