Six tips to avoid run-ins with bears this summer

Six tips to avoid run-ins with bears this summer

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — As the weather is warming up and more people head outdoors, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is sharing tips on how to avoid conflicts with bears.

DWR says that black bears are the only bear species you’ll see in Utah, and that they live and roam in much of the state.

Cool and a little calmer before Utah warms up

Around March and April, bears typically start coming out of hibernation, depending on snow conditions. DWR says that during the spring, 90% of a bear’s diet consists of plants and insects. But, they do have a strong sense of smell and will eat the same type of food people do if it’s easily accessible.

DWR added that many conflicts between people and bears happen as bears end up scavenging for food that humans eat and cook while camping.

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

“Even though they’re incredibly strong and surprisingly fast, black bears will typically do everything they can to avoid people,” DWR Game Mammals Coordinator Darren DeBloois says. “When a bear finds food, though, that all changes. A bear will often become aggressive toward anything or anyone it perceives as threatening the area where it found the food.”

Here are some tips to keep both you and bears safe when recreating in bear country — which DWR says includes all of Utah except for the West Desert — or if you live in foothills and canyons throughout the state.

Map of black bear habitat in Utah. (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)
Map of black bear habitat in Utah. (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

Bear-proof your food and supplies

To keep bears from getting into your food, DWR says to store your food, snacks and scented items like deodorant and toothpaste. Do not leave them out on tables or in your tent. Instead, store them in a locked trailer or lock them in the truck of your car. This reduces the chance bears will smell them.

Keep your cooking area clean

After you finish eating, DWR says to thoroughly clean utensils and anything else used to make food. Do not dump oil or grease from pots or pans onto the ground. Instead, DWR says to put it in a container and take it home with you. Keeping your campsite’s cooking and eating areas clean will reduce the chance of bears coming near your camp.

Never feed a bear

Never feed bear cubs or bears you come across. DWR says that if a bear becomes comfortable with people, it could lead to something wildlife biologists and conservation officers dread, having to euthanize the bear to keep the public safe.

“We got into the wildlife profession because we love wildlife,” DeBloois says. “We enjoy managing and protecting animals so Utahns can get outdoors and enjoy them. Having to euthanize an animal — because someone didn’t do something as simple as keeping their campsite clean and storing food in a secure area — is tough. Please don’t put us in that situation.”

Bear-proof outdoor garbage cans

DWR says that many bear reports they get each year are about bears getting into trash cans or dumpsters. To prevent this, they recommend storing your trash in a secure location or bear-proof container. If you don’t have access to a bear-safe garbage can or dumpster, they say to 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, they say to regularly clean the inside of your trash container to remove any smells that may be enticing to bears.

Remove or secure any items that will attract a bear to your house

Again, remember Utah is a bear country — especially if you live in the foothills or other mountainous parts of the state. It is important to properly secure or clean anything in your yard that may attract a bear. DWR says these include birdfeeders, fruit trees, compost piles, beehives, pet food and water bowls, unsupervised outdoor pets (especially at night) and grills.

If you do encounter a bear, here’s what to do

Stand your ground: Don’t back up, lie down, or play dead. Instead, 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: DWR says black bears are excellent climbers and can run up to 35 mph, so you won’t be able to outrun or outclimb them.

Understand bear behavior: DWR says if a bear stands up, grunts or makes other sounds, it’s not being aggressive, rather it’s trying to get a better look or smell and express its interest.

Fight back: If a black bear attacks, always fight back. DWR says that people have been able to successfully defend themselves with almost anything, such as rocks, sticks, backpacks, and water bottles.

When to report a bear sighting

If you see a bear in foothills or canyons areas, DWR says it should only be reported if it’s being aggressive or it’s getting into trash or fruit trees or causing damage.

They also say to report any bear that has wandered into lower-elevation areas and is within city limits or in heavily populated areas so it can be relocated.

More information about bear safety can be found on the Wild Aware Utah website.

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