Most residents and visitors welcome the chance to glimpse a bear. Sometimes bears are attracted to areas used by people, becoming unwelcome visitors.
Many people do not realize that by simply altering their behavior they can minimize the chance of unwanted property damage, close encounters with bears, and the death of many bears.
Black and grizzly bears are omnivorous, eating both plants and meat protein. Bears primarily eat vegetation, supplementing their diet of grass, berries, nuts and seeds with an occasional meal of carrion (dead animals), insects, or any mammal they can catch, or dig up. In the Yellowstone ecosystem, 90% of a bears diet will consist of vegetation.
Bears Around Your Home
If your home is in a rural area that is near forested land, chances are good that you have bears for neighbors. How well you get along with these somewhat gluttonous neighbors depends on you. Although bears are generally shy and usually avoid humans, they are opportunistic and will search for human food supplies when natural foods are not available, or when they are easy to obtain.
Is your residence free of food odors that may attract a hungry bear’s attention? Garbage, bird food, pet food, fruit trees, and outdoor grills are the most common bear invitations.
The majority of conflicts can be avoided. Here are some tips on preventing bear problems.
Bear-Proofing Your Property
- In northern states like Montana, take down, clean and put away bird feeders by April 1. Store the bird feeder until early winter. (Birds will do just fine with the natural foods available.) Bear damage due to bird feeders is a very common and growing complaint. Do not begin feeding birds again, until mid-November when most bears have gone into hibernation.
- Clean up spilled seed below feeder stations.
- Keep garbage in airtight containers inside your garage or storage area until day of pickup. Double bagging and the use of ammonia will reduce odors that attract bears. Freeze food scraps before discarding into the garbage can.
- Garbage for pickup should be put outside the morning of collection and not the night before.
- A plastic garbage bag alone does not provide enough security. Always place bagged garbage in a secondary container.
- Do not place meat or sweet food scraps in your compost pile.
- Do not leave pet food or dishes outdoors at night.
- Clean up and/or store outdoor grills after use.
- Use a bear-proof dumpster, can, or store all garbage in a secure storage area without windows until day of pickup.
- Erect portable solar powered electric fences around fruit trees and gardens. Do not allow fruit or vegetables to rot on the ground.
- Compost Piles, if you must have a compost pile, enclose it with electric fencing. Don’t 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.
- Never intentionally feed bears to attract them to your yard for viewing.
A FED BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR!
When bears are fed, they quickly learn unbearlike behaviors. Sadly, this often leads to the death of the bear. Once a bear comes into contact with human foods or garbage, they return again and again.
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, killing the bear is usually the next course of action. Black bears are given three chances when they are relocated. Unfortunately, most relocated bears return to the location they were first trapped within days and have to be killed.
Research on breaking bears of the human-related food habit continues, but at present wildlife experts agree: 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.
You can prevent a bears death by following a few simple guidelines.
As snow disappears in early spring hungry bears leave their winter dens. Early spring offers the promise of abundant bear foods, but yields no such benefit until grasses grow, bulbs sprout and flowers bloom.
Fall in Montana is also another critical period for bears. If fall food sources are limited, the bears are often drawn into residential areas. Although bears are generally shy and usually avoid humans, their need for food and their fondness for sunflower seeds, and suet often draws them to residential areas and bird feeders. Bird feeders are the number one reason for human-bear conflict in Montana, and becoming the number one reason in many other states.
Bear Proofing Bird Feeders
Simply put, its impossible. Various set ups and designs have been tried over the years, but bears who have been attracted to a bird feeder will always find a way to get to the feeder, or knock it to the ground. Bears who have been attracted to a bird feeder are also more likely to break into houses, which generally results in the bears death.
Here are some suggestions to prevent your bird feeder from becoming a bear feeder
Complete your bird feeding activities by April 1st each year in Montana. In southern climates you will probably need to adjust that time to an earlier month. Do not resume bird feeding until early winter after bears have gone into hibernation (the birds will do just fine).
Bears are clever. This, coupled with their strength and agility, make it very difficult if not impossible to establish bear proof bird feeders.
Purposeful feeding can result in the bears getting accustomed to humans. This “habituation” of bears may cause a variety of conflicts with humans. The end result will be the death of the offending bear.
Encourage your bird feeding friends and neighbors to adhere to these guidelines.
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Take Proper Care of Your Garbage!
Bears are one of America’s most magnificent large mammals. Although bears are shy and usually avoid humans, they are also opportunistic and will search for human food supplies when there are little natural foods available. Their keen sense of smell can lead them to trouble – both for themselves and humans. Take proper care of your garbage to help avoid these conflicts.
Dispose of Garbage Properly
- Don’t let garbage pile up or develop strong odors that can attract bears. Minimize odors by keeping garbage in tightly closed plastic trash bags. Freeze food scraps, especially meat, fish and fruit by-products, in an airtight container until trash collection day.
- Use bear-proof trash and recycling containers. Plastic and metal trash cans with fitted lids and dumpster’s 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 don’t 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.
- Don’t discard cooking grease in your yard. Collect it in a glass, plastic or metal container with a lid and allow to cool. When ready to dispose of it, transfer it to a plastic bag, seal the bag tightly and place it in the trash.
- Keep dumpster’s and trash containers secured at night. Chain and lock both tops and sliding side doors. If necessary store cans indoors at night.
- Choose adequate sized dumpster’s Don’t let dumpster garbage overflow. Chain the lid down. Bears can easily open most dumpster’s
- Stabilize smaller dumpster’s to prevent bears from tipping them over.
- Rinse out dumpster’s and cans with a hose, and deodorize with ammonia often.
- Pick up loose or spilled garbage.
- Erect portable solar powered electric fences around dumpster’s, and fruit trees to reduce bear activity. Fruit trees are a common problem during the fall in Montana.
- Double bag garbage and place it in airtight containers to reduce food odors that may attract bears.
- If you keep garbage in a shed, keep the doors closed tightly to prevent bears from forcing them open. Bar the windows, and doors. Bears can easily push through a glass window. Keep in mind, bears can easily break into sheds, garages, or other out-buildings.
- If bears do break into your storage shed, move garbage to a more secure location and deodorize with ammonia.
- Further discourage bears from approaching dumpster’s or storage sheds by using loud noise making devices.
- Never intentionally feed bears to attract them to your yard for viewing. This is becoming a very common problem with folks moving into the areas surrounding Yellowstone Park. If you do decide to feed bears in your yard, be forewarned, it will not be tolerated and you can expect to be caught, fined, and possibly arrested. Remember…. a fed bear is a dead bear!
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Testing was conducted by “The Bearman” Kevin Sanders in May 2002 at the Grizzly Bear Discovery Center with large Alaskan Kodiak grizzly bears. Testing monitored by ; Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and BFI waste services. (Sanders; Gallatin Canyon Bear Proof Research Project, 2001)
Fruit Trees and Gardens
Fruits and vegetables are not only tasty for humans but among the many natural foods that bears search out in the wild. Even though fruits and vegetables are better for a bear than garbage, these areas are usually close to homes and will quickly habituate a bear to humans.
Never allow fruits or vegetables to rot on the ground.
Erect portable solar powered electric fences around fruit trees and gardens.
Compost Piles: if you must have a compost pile, enclose it with electric fencing. Never 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.
Clean grills regularly
Store grills in the basement or other secure location when not in use.
Clean spilled or dripped grease from deck area.
Do not leave food cooking outside unattended. Bears have been known to snatch sizzling steaks right off the grill !
Do not leave scented products outside. Bears will sample anything that smells good, even nonfood items such as suntan lotion, insect repellent, soap and candles.
Feed pets indoors or feed only enough so that no food remains during the night.
Clean bowls regularly.
What Do You Do if There is a Bear in Your Yard?
If you do find a bear using your home as a grocery store, contact your local Fish and Game Dept. as soon as possible. The more a particular bear visits your home, the more conditioned they become, and the greater the chance that the bear will have to be killed.
In Montana, report all bear sightings and incidents on your property to: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department, 406-994-4042. If it’s a grizzly bear, call immediately.
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 you’re 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 bear’s encounter with you is, the less likely it is to come back.
If you unexpectedly encounter a bear in your yard, walk, don’t run away. Move slowly and don’t make eye contact. If the bear is a grizzly with cubs, don’t 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 you’re not a threat. It may leave you alone or paw you and inflict mild injuries. Learn more about what to do if you are attacked by a bear —bear spray, bear attacks……what to do.
Be prepared for close encounters with bears by carrying pepper spray. Keep a canister 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. More on bear spray, bear attacks and my recommendations on the best brand of bear spray—-click here.
Remember——-to change the behavior of bears, we must first change our own. Don’t wait until you have a problem to do something about it. It is our responsibility if we choose to live in bear country to learn how to live with bears.
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