Make Your Property Less Attractive to Nuisance Wildlife

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Southeastern Kentucky's black bears are in their dens for the winter. Now is the perfect time for area residents to bear-proof their property before bears re-emerge in spring.

While the home areas of bears are primarily restricted to the mountains, some of the following tips are also useful for preventing nuisance wildlife problems with raccoons, opossums and coyotes elsewhere in the state.

Steven Dobey, bear program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, noted that garbage kept outside is the main attraction for bears and other wildlife.

"The best way to prevent conflicts with bears is to maintain garbage inside some type of enclosed structure like a garage, outbuilding or shed," he said. "Another very effective way is to invest in a bear-resistant garbage container, or you can make one."

Some ingenious bear country residents have found success by building their own bear-proof containers out of discarded metal drums or tanks for outside storage. Alternately, you can cover your existing garbage can or dumpster with chain link or steel mesh to keep bears out.

Wild bears are generally wary of people. However, bears that have been conditioned to associate humans with food may lose their natural fear and become nuisances. Open dumpsters, food scraps tossed on the ground and pet food left outside all teach bears that where there are people, there's food. The same is true for coyotes, raccoons and opossums looking for an easy meal.

Measures taken now to make buildings less attractive to bears and nuisance wildlife will pay dividends in the future by keeping animals wild - and out of trouble.

"A large number of male bears will begin to emerge from their dens in mid- to- late March," Dobey said. "Natural foods are very limited during that time of the year, so bears are looking for food wherever they can find it. Sometimes the easiest meal is garbage near a building. Black bears are extremely opportunistic and intelligent - once they're rewarded by getting food, they'll generally return for more."

Beekeepers might consider protecting their hives with electric fencing. High fencing around dumpsters can keep bears out. Even putting away the birdfeeders once the temperatures start to warm can help prevent drawing bears onto your property. If you must feed pets outside, only put out enough for one meal and leave it out for a limited time. Never leave out pet food overnight.

For several years now, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has been educating people about how to deal with bears, which are gradually returning to the state.

Black bears were once abundant in eastern Kentucky, but their numbers substantially decreased as intensive logging in the early 1900s removed most of their habitat. As hardwood forests grew back and matured throughout the Southern Appalachian Mountains, bears returned to Kentucky from neighboring states. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has not stocked bears.

Kentucky now has a naturally reproducing bear population that is growing larger and spreading outward. These bears provide economic and recreational opportunities for Kentuckians. People can safely view bears from a distance at some state parks and wildlife management areas, and even hunt them under a new season that began in 2009.

Once bears learn to associate people with food, however, their benefits can be overshadowed by the problems that may arise.

To help protect people, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has relocated and even euthanized problem bears. While moving a bear to another county can sometimes work, a bear that learns to raid garbage will likely continue to do so wherever it resides.

"Bears can become extremely tolerant of people, and this creates situations where bears sometimes have to be destroyed," Dobey said. "There are always safety risks involved when people are near wild animals whose behavior is unpredictable."

Prevention is the key to keeping Kentucky's bears wild, and to protecting people and their property. First, never feed bears. It doesn't just lead to potential problems - it is also illegal. Feeding bears or leaving out food scraps in the hopes of attracting one to view or photograph can result in fines up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail.

Next, keep trash in an enclosed area such as a garage or shed before trash day. Put trash out on the morning of pick-up rather than the night before. Feed pets inside and keep food scraps with your other garbage rather than throwing them outside.

Check out Kentucky Fish and Wildlife's Web site, fw.ky.gov, to read more about bear nuisance problems and how you can prevent them. Click on "Species and Programs" under the "Hunting, Trapping and Wildlife" tab, and then click "Black Bears."

Most people can resolve nuisance problems by following these guidelines. If you are still experiencing a problem after taking these steps, contact Kentucky Fish and Wildlife at 1-800-858-1549 to report the behavior.

"The key is preventing behavior before it becomes ingrained. Reporting human-bear conflicts in a timely fashion is critical," Dobey said. "We want to document all bear nuisance-related activity. But that doesn't mean we are going to physically respond to each complaint. The reason for that is our data clearly show that approximately 70 percent of all nuisance complaints we have received are directly related to garbage."

Depending on the specific type of nuisance activity, a Kentucky Fish and Wildlife employee may visit the property personally or provide advice about how to avoid the bear problem. Sometimes the use of non-lethal rubber bullets will teach bears to stay away from an area. Other solutions may include trapping and relocating a bear, or euthanizing it as a last resort.

No person in modern times has been injured by a black bear in Kentucky. Preventing bear nuisance problems from happening in the first place will ensure that bears remain a positive part of Kentucky's outdoors.

For more information about bears in Kentucky and how you can prevent nuisance problems, contact the department by emailing info.center@ky.gov or calling 1-800-858-1549 to request a free brochure and DVD.

Author Hayley Lynch is an award-winning writer and associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. She loves deer hunting, shotgun sports and introducing women to the outdoors.