-- Stephen Herrero
Author, "Bear Attacks:
Their Causes and
As the human population of the greater Yellowstone area has increased, so have our interactions with black bears and grizzlies ó often with unfortunate results. Many bears have become so used to our presence in their world they have lost their natural wariness. Reward this behavior with something to eat even once, and we end up with bears that associate us with food. Such bears will aggressively seek handouts and follow their noses to developed areas for the unnatural sustenance we unwittingly provide for them in the form of garbage, pet food, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, bird seed and other items found near our residences. In pursuit of an easy meal, these bears can damage property and injure people.
Wildlife managers called in to deal with a "problem" bear will try relocating it or discouraging it by using pepper spray, firing rubber bullets and deploying specially trained bear dogs. If these methods fail, however, killing the bear is usually the next course of action.
Research on breaking bears of the human-related food habit continues, but at present wildlife experts concur: A fed bear, more often than not, is a dead bear. In the Montana portion of the Yellowstone ecosystem, feeding by humans contributes to more grizzly bear deaths than any other factor, figuring in more than a third of the grizzly mortalities reported annually. Live by the bear-proofing guidelines presented in this booklet and you can prevent wild bears from becoming mortality statistics.
Donít let garbage pile up or develop strong odors that can attract bears. Minimize odors by keeping garbage in tightly closed plastic trash bags. Stash food scraps, especially meat, fish and fruit by-products, in the freezer in an airtight container or wrapped in newspaper until trash collection day.
Use bear-proof trash and recycling containers. Plastic and metal trash cans with fitted lids and dumpsters with sliding doors or lift-up lids are not bear-proof. Bear-proof trash and recycling containers feature sturdy construction and self-closing mailbox-top-style lids and are designed to be secured permanently to prevent toppling. Your local garbage service may require you to use bear-proof containers and may even provide them. If you donít have a bear-proof container, keep garbage and recyclables in the house or a secured area such as a roofed enclosure made of bear-proof fencing until close to pick-up time on trash day.
Donít discard cooking grease in your yard. Collect it in a glass, plastic or metal container with a lid. When ready to dispose of it, transfer it to a plastic bag, seal the bag tightly and place it in the trash.
Donít leave any food or beverage óincluding unopened canned items ó outside or even on a screened porch. As soon as you are finished eating, bring all dishes, containers, utensils and uneaten food inside the house.
Promptly and properly discard or recycle soda cans, used paper plates, cups, disposable containers and napkins. Anything that has been used to hold or cook food and beverages (especially sugary ones) can attract bears.
Donít leave food cooking outside unattended. Bears have been known to snatch sizzling steaks right off the grill.
Clean outdoor cookers and coolers thoroughly after each use. Burn off any remaining food particles and scrub the grease from grills, smokers and other outdoor cookers. If cooking over an open fire, remove any unburned food or scraps from the fire pit. Store coolers and cookers inside if possible. Even empty coolers and clean grills can retain trace odors that can entice bears. And bears that have had a taste of what coolers and grills can offer will investigate others on sight.
Donít leave scented products outside. Bears will sample anything that smells good, even nonfood items such as suntan lotion, insect repellent, soap and candles.
Donít leave trash, groceries or animal feed in your vehicle. Bears can and will pry open car and truck doors and break windows to get at food or coolers and other items they associate with food.
Porches, Windows and Other Entranceways
Keep doors and windows closed and locked. Food smells can lure bears inside. If you must keep a freezer or refrigerator on your porch or other outdoor area, secure it to the wall and padlock the doors so bears canít knock it over and open it.
Keep your lawn mowed and weeded. Grasses, dandelions and clover are natural bear foods.
Consider electric fencing if you have a garden. Vegetable gardens, especially those containing potatoes and root vegetables such as carrots and beets, attract bears. Flower gardens are not as attractive to bears as long they donít contain sweet vetch, dandelions or clover. Never use blood meal as a fertilizer or deer repellent in any garden.
If you must have a compost pile, enclose it with electric fencing. Donít put meat, fish, melon rinds and other pungent scraps in the pile. Keep it aerated and properly turned. Add lime to promote decomposition and reduce odor.
Fruit Trees and Berry-Producing Shrubs†
Itís best not to have fruit-bearing trees and shrubs on your property in bear country. However, if you do have apple, crabapple, chokecherry or other fruit trees or berry bushes and donít wish to replace them with varieties that donít attract bears, install electric fencing to deter bears. Pick fruit as soon as it ripens (or before if youíre not going to use it right away). Remove any that has fallen to the ground as soon as possible.
†Donít put out any type of bird feeder during the period bears are active, mid- March to mid-November. (Birds donít need supplemental feeding at this time anyway.) This includes suet feeders, peanut butter feeders, all types of seed feeders and hummingbird feeders. At a minimum, make feeders unavailable by hanging them at least ten feet from the ground and four feet from any supporting post or tree trunk. Better yet, take them down and bring them in at night. Store all birdseed indoors also. As an alternative to hummingbird feeders (the sugar water solution used to fill them is particularly attractive to bears), plant red or pink native flowers such as petunias, scarlet runner beans, columbines and snapdragons, which are known to appeal to hummingbirds.
Salt and Mineral Blocks
Donít set out salt and mineral blocks to attract wildlife to your yard because bears are among the animals that like them. (Also be aware that the deer, elk and moose these blocks attract can in turn draw mountain lions to your property.)
Donít leave pets unattended outside, especially at night or when a bear is known to be in the area. Store pet food inside. Donít feed pets outdoors unless they eat immediately and you can bring their bowls inside as soon as theyíre finished. Donít leave bones and scented chew toys lying around your yard.
Install electric fencing around hives or place them on a platform with an overhang at least six-and-a-half feet from the ground.
†Install electric fencing to keep bears out of corrals and chicken coops. (Bears usually donít bother horses, adult cattle or llamas; however, calves, goats, geese and especially sheep, pigs and chickens are vulnerable. Defenders of Wildlife administers the Grizzly Compensation Trust, a fund for reimbursing citizens for any verified loss of livestock to grizzly bears. To report a loss, call the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks at the number in the box below.)
Store all livestock feed in a secured shed or other secured area or in a bear-proof container. If an animal dies, remove the body from your property as soon as possible. Haul it to the landfill, have a rendering service pick it up or bury it at least eight to ten feet deep in a remote spot on your land. Donít dump an animal carcass on public property or leave it near a building, road, trail or other developed area.
Although the grizzly is more powerful, assertive and unpredictable, both black bears and grizzlies can be dangerous to humans. Familiarize yourself with the distinguishing characteristics of the two species so youíll know which one youíre dealing with should you encounter a bear. Size and color alone are not sufficient to make a positive identification. Size is relative and both species range in color from black to blond. More reliable distinguishing features are:
Grizzly bears have a concave (dished) profile. Black bears have a relatively straight profile from the forehead to the tip of the nose.
Ear size and shape:†
Grizzly bears have smaller, more rounded ears. The ears of the black bear are larger, more erect and more pointed.
Grizzly bears have prominent shoulder humps on their backs formed by the powerful muscles of their forelegs. Black bears usually do not have distinctive shoulder humps.
Grizzly bears have long, slightly curved, more obvious claws. Black bears have shorter, more curved claws.
Front Paw Tracks:†
Imagine a straight line drawn from the bottom of the big toe to the little, or fifth, toe. In grizzlies, all the toe prints will be above the line. In black bears, half to all of the fifth toe will be below the line.
- Report all bear sightings and incidents on your property.
- If you are certain the bear is a black bear, encourage it to leave. Bang on pots and pans or make other loud noises. (Boat air horns work well.) As a last resort (and only if youíre in a protected position) throw stones or other small objects in the direction of the bear with the intent of driving it away, not hurting it. The more stressful a bearís encounter with you is, the less likely it is to come back.
- If you unexpectedly encounter a bear in your yard, walk, donít run, away. Move slowly and donít make eye contact. If the bear is a grizzly with cubs, donít get between her and her cubs or threaten the cubs in any way. If the bear charges, stand your ground. Bears commonly "bluff charge," stopping within a few feet. If the bear continues to come at you, drop to the ground, curl up in "cannonball" position, head between knees and hands clasped around the back of your neck, and play dead. Playing dead shows the animal youíre not a threat. It may leave you alone or paw you and inflict mild injuries.
- Be prepared for close encounters with bears by carrying pepper spray. Keep a large canister (at least 15 ounces) on your belt. Sprayed in the face of a charging bear at close range, oil-based pepper sprays containing at least ten percent oleoresin capsicum have been proven to halt attacks. Read the directions and practice firing the canister before you start carrying it. Use the spray only in the event of an attack.
Defenders of Wildlife is grateful to Kevin Frey and Kerry Gunther of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Pat O'Herren of Brown Bear Resources, Inc. for reviewing the text of this booklet.
Project Advisor: Hank Fischer
Project Manager: Minette Johnson
Editor: Kate Davies
Thank you for the info, Kat! I do not have them in my backyard, but I do go hiking up north quite a bit, and any info on them is greatly appreciated.
Thanks for the information on the black bears. I live in South Jersey, and the black bear just recently arrived from North Jersey, and they have been spotted only a couple of miles from here, and I read where they were spotted in a few other areas near here.
I really hope they don't come to my house, as I have my Pigeon living out front in a cage, and lots of bird feeders, and there is always bread out for the birds too, and in the back yards, there is loads of food around. We have electric fencing on some of my yards, but it is on the inside, and is for small animals.
I am sure I will do the right thing by screaming anyway. I am afraid of big dogs, so what will I be like if I see a bear. YIKES
We have recently had a deer on the front lawn, as there are crab apple trees out there, and I guess that is what the deer came for, or he wanted a drink of water.
One piece of advice that makes perfect sense but I never thought of:
Securely block access to potential hibernation sites such as crawl spaces under decks and buildings.
Bear Proof Your Property
for the link, Elena!† † We have a lot of black bears here in Maine, but I haven't seen one yet!
British Columbia's Bear Smart Community Program
Each year a 'local' bear invades my large hen house tearing siding off,eating chicks and ducks. Last night he tore the multi-bolted door to pieces. I need a real solution to bear proof this hen house. Anyone?