Be Bear Aware during this drought seasonJun 10, 2021 01:01PM ● By Tom Haraldsen
My wife and I took a trip to Yellowstone National Park during Memorial Day this year, and as you enter that park and Teton National Park before it, there are always a lot of signs about being “Bear Aware.” That’s particularly true on a year like this, with Utah and the Intermountain West suffering a severe drought.
Black bears live and roam throughout much of Utah, and are the only bear species currently in Utah. They have an amazing sense of smell. They also have no problem eating the same type of food that people eat. As a result, many of the conflicts between people and bears happen because the bears start scavenging for the food that humans are eating and cooking in the bear’s natural habitat, something of which the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is constantly educating the public.
“Even though they’re incredibly strong and surprisingly fast, black bears will typically do everything they can to avoid people,” said Darren DeBloois, DWR game mammals coordinator. “When a bear finds food, though, that all changes. Once it finds food, a bear will often become aggressive toward anything it perceives as threatening the area where it found the food – that includes people.”
He said bears came out of hibernation a little earlier than usual this year, due to the low snow conditions and early warm weather. The drought conditions impact plants and other root-like vegetation, which make up 90% of a black bear’s diet, so DWR biologists think bears may be looking for alternate food sources in other areas this year.
“This lower food supply could lead to more bear conflicts this summer as bears look more broadly for food,” DeBloois said. “We are already getting reports in some areas of the state where bears are getting into people’s garbage scavenging for food. Bears could be more aggressive this year than normal as they try to obtain food, so we really want people to be aware and do all they can to eliminate food sources and not draw a bear to their area.”
The DWR offers a few tips to make sure humans and bears are both safe in the outdoors.
Bear-proof your food and supplies
Store your food, snacks and scented items (such as deodorant and toothpaste) in an area where a bear can’t get to them. Do not leave them out on tables or keep them in your tent. Storing them in a locked trailer or locking them in the trunk of your car are both good options. If a bear does make its way to the area where you’re staying, if it isn’t rewarded with food, it will likely move on.
Keep your cooking area clean
After you’ve finished eating, thoroughly clean utensils and anything else that was used to prepare or eat the food. Don’t dump oil or grease from pots or pans onto the ground. Instead, take it home with you.
Keep your campsite clean
Don’t leave food scraps and other trash scattered around your campsite or cabin area. Instead, put it in trash bags, and take it home with you. Make sure to wipe down picnic tables and keep the area free of food and other debris.
Never feed a bear
Although bear cubs may seem cute, you should absolutely never feed one – or an adult bear for that matter. They are wild animals and natural predators.
Bear-proof your outdoor garbage cans
Make sure to store your trash in a secure location or bear-proof container. If you don’t have access to a bear-safe garbage can or dumpster, make sure to store your garbage can in your garage and put it out for pick up in the morning, rather than the night before. Also, make sure to clean your trash container regularly to eliminate some of the odors that attract bears.
Remove items that will attract a bear to your house
Utah is bear country, and especially so if you live in the foothills or other mountainous parts of the state. It is important to properly secure or clean yard items that may attract a bear, like bird feeders, fruit trees, compost piles, beehives, pet food and water bowls and barbecue grills.
Know what to do if you encounter a bear
Stand your ground: Never back up, lie down or play dead. Stay calm and give the bear a chance to leave. Prepare to use your bear spray or another deterrent if you have one.
Don’t run away or climb a tree. Black bears are excellent climbers and can run up to 35 mph – you cannot out climb or outrun them.
If a bear stands up, grunts, moans or makes other sounds, it’s not being aggressive. These are the ways a bear gets a better look or smell and expresses its interest.
If a black bear attacks, always fight back. People have successfully defended themselves with almost anything: rocks, sticks, backpacks, water bottles and even their hands and feet.