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DWR: Drought Conditions Can Increase Chances Of Bear Encounters

Keeping your campsite clean and not leaving food out are two keys to staying safe in black bear country. (Utah Department of Wildlife Resources)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It’s a given that most people have heard the warnings about drought and fire danger in Utah, but the increased threat of a dangerous bear encounter due to drought is likely not as well known.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said bears are out looking for food and could be more aggressive this year.

With such dry soil, it’s harder for the plants and root-like vegetation that make up most of a black bear’s diet to grow.

The DWR said that may make bears more aggressive as they search for other food sources in a wider area.

They like the same food that humans eat and cook in the wild.

“Even though they’re incredibly strong and surprisingly fast, black bears will typically do everything they can to avoid people,” said Darren DeBloois, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources 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.”

DeBloois said the DWR has already received reports of bears searching for food in people’s garbage.

“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,” he said.

DWR produced a video that explains how to stay safe around a black bear and included the following tips for staying safe from bears while enjoying 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. Storing food and scented items in these areas will reduce the chance that a bear smells them. And, 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, put the oil or grease in a container, and take it home with you. By keeping your campsite or cabin area clean, you reduce the chance that a bear will smell food and trash, and be lured to your camp.

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. Always keep your campsite or cabin area clean because a dirty campsite can attract bears long after you’ve left.

Never feed a bear

This may seem like common sense, but it’s worth noting. 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.

Once a bear loses its fear of people, wildlife biologists, and conservation officers are left with something they dread: having to euthanize an animal to keep the public safe. By not providing a bear with food, you can help keep it safe too.

Bear-proof your outdoor garbage cans

Many bear reports involve bears getting into trash cans or dumpsters in neighborhoods and at cabins. 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. Some of these include:

  • Birdfeeders (both seed and hummingbird)
  • Fruit trees
  • Compost piles
  • Beehives
  • Pet food and water bowls
  • Unsupervised outdoor pets (especially at night)
  • 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.
  • Don’t run away or climb a tree. Black bears are excellent climbers and can run up to 35 mph — you cannot outclimb or outrun them.
  • Know bear behavior. 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. And never give up! People have successfully defended themselves with almost anything: rocks, sticks, backpacks, water bottles, and even their hands and feet.

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