Humans, also eager to get out into nature after a winter spent largely indoors, can easily encounter bears in the wild, and straying bears occasionally find their way into suburban backyards, garbage dumps and parks looking for an easy meal.
Once bears associate a certain location or activity with food, they will continue to frequent that location and repeat the activity. When they learn to obtain food from humans, they can become bold and aggressive and their natural foraging habits and behavior are changed as a result. Taking preventive cautionary action before your first bear encounter is the best advice.
1. Secure your garbage bins. Freeze smelly items.
Securing your garbage is the number one way you can avoid conflicts with bears. At this time of year compost and garbage will attract any neighboring bears, especially females with cubs, hungry bears due to natural food shortages, and young bears not tolerated by the adult. Do not leave garbage outside or in the back of pickup trucks. If you live in bear country, consider freezing smelly items such as leftover fish, meat scraps and fruit before you put them in the garbage.
In early spring, it’s also a good idea to wash out your garbage can every few weeks or as needed. A mild solution of bleach in hot water will cut the residual smells in the can.
2. Put your trash out the morning of pickup, not the night before.
A 1994 Arizona study found that residents who left their garbage out overnight had a 70% chance of a bear visit, whereas residents who stored their trash securely until the morning of pick-up reduced their chances of a bear visit down to 2%. Never leave trash out overnight unsecured.
3. Add lime to your compost, and seal your compost bins
Compost bins are very attractive to bears. Sprinkle lime into and around the base of your compost bin. Bears have sensitive noses, and the lime will mask the smell of the composting materials. The lime will also benefit your compost. Keep compost in sealed composters if you live in bear country. Sealed composters will also speed up the composting process.
While you’re at it, look to see that any smelly garden fertilizers are stored in secure garden shed. Fish fertilizer and blood meal, for example, are bear attractants.
4. Avoid overstocking your bird feeder: it may attract more than birds.
Bears have such an incredible sense of smell, they’ll sniff the bird seed in your backyard feeder from a long way off. Keep small amounts of seed in your feeder and replenish it more often. This will also provide fresher, mold-free seeds for the birds. Hummingbird feeders are especially attractive to bears because of the rich sugar-water solution. Hang these feeders 10’ from the ground or in a location difficult for a bear to access. As an alternative, plant native flowers which also attract hummingbirds.
5. Keep pet food indoors.
To deter bears around the home, use bear-resistant containers for pet food, or better still, keep pet food dishes indoors, especially during the spring months. Bulk pet food, large sacks of bird feed or poultry feed should be secured in locked garden sheds or indoors.
6. Clean your barbecue grill.
Burn off any residue on your barbecue grill and shut the lid. Store any grill cooking accessories such as sauces and condiments indoors.
7. Slow down when driving through wooded areas.
It’s tempting to drive faster in wooded or rural areas because you think no one’s around. Local wildlife can be more active in wooded areas, and vehicle collisions are the most common cause of bear deaths in many states.
8. Report residential bear sightings to your local conservation officer.
If you encounter a bear in a residential neighbourhood, bring children and pets indoors and notify the neighbours as well as your local conservation officer. Do not provoke or attempt to chase the bear away.
9. Make your presence known when hiking or camping.
Most confrontations with bears are a result of surprise encounters at close range, so take precautions to avoid startling a bear. Their size, strength and surprising speed make them potentially dangerous. When hiking or working in bear country, make noise to make your presence known and stay in groups.
10. Keep your distance.
If you encounter a bear cub, there is likely a protective mother nearby. Keep a respectable distance. If you do have a close encounter, avoid direct eye contact but talk and wave your hands to identify yourself as human, then move away slowly and give the bear an escape route.
With shrinking habitat, the loss of natural forage drives bears to leave their home range in search of food. Understanding the plight of bears, especially in springtime when cubs increase the demand for food, will help you avoid encounters with intruding bears and may also contribute to the safety of the bears.