Drought Conditions may Increase Bear Problems
Utah wildlife officials are urging people to keep a clean campsite and to not intentionally feed black bears in the state's backcountry this summer.
"We're noticing black bear problems earlier than normal this year," said Craig McLaughlin, mammals coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "We've already had several instances of black bears raiding summer homes and campgrounds in central Utah and killing sheep on rangelands. Bear problems have also been reported in northern, northeastern and southeastern Utah.
"Five years of drought has reduced the vegetation, insect populations and berries that black bears eat in the summer," he said, "so there's a good chance more bears will be attracted to campgrounds in search of food, and that's not good."
Because black bears are wild animals, McLaughlin says they're typically afraid of people. "That changes as soon as they begin to associate people with a place to get food," he said. "They start losing their fear of people and can become aggressive and dangerous."
McLaughlin says food is what attracts bears to people and that by following a few simple rules, people can virtually eliminate problems with bears. He encourages people to do the following:
- Keep your campsite clean. Don't leave garbage, food scraps and fat drippings in your fire pit, or scattered around your campsite. Instead, place them in an air tight container and take them home with you.
- Keep the cooking grills and utensils in your camping area clean.
- Don't leave food out. Instead, store food and coolers in the trunk of your car, in your camping trailer, in a bear proof container or suspended at least 12 feet high between two trees, so bears can't reach them. Plastic garbage cans and plastic food storage containers are not bear proof.
- Never intentionally feed bears by leaving food out for them.
- Bears have an incredible sense of smell, so make sure you cook away from your tent or sleeping area. Also, don't sleep in the clothes you cooked in or wore while cleaning fish. Leave those clothes, along with utensils, rags and anything else used in food preparation, cooking, eating and clean up, at the cooking area or sealed inside a vehicle.
McLaughlin says when these rules aren't followed, there aren't many alternatives left.
"The first thing we'll do with a bear that's just gotten into trouble is haze it with rubber bullets or hounds or capture it in hopes that the experience will scare it enough that it won't want to visit the campground again," he said. "This only works with bears that are brand new to the campground, however. Bears that have already associated the campground with food will come back as soon as we move them."
McLaughlin says bears have an incredible homing ability and can find their way back to an area that's as far as 100 miles away.
"It's difficult for our regional wildlife managers to find remote sites to move problem bears to. As a result, often all we've done is shift the problem to a new area of the state," he said. "The bear is used to looking to campgrounds for food, and it will roam and find a campground in the new area.
"It's very simple to avoid putting a bear in a situation where it has to be killed to protect public safety and we hope people will follow our advice this summer," he said.
People who have questions can call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office or the DWR's Salt Lake City office at (801) 538-4700.