In preparation for denning, Idaho's black bears are on the move, looking for any and all food sources that might help them gain weight.
High calorie human foods are a major attractant, particularly if they are easy to obtain. With that in mind, Fish and Game officials are urging hunters and other outdoor recreationists, together with homeowners who live in more rural settings, to use common sense and be "bear aware."
"Statewide drought and another prolonged fire season have resulted in the loss of natural bear foods in many areas," Fish and Game conservation officer Matt O'Connell said. "As such, we've seen an uptick in the number of bear sightings in and around rural residential areas and other places where human foods are present, such as campgrounds."
A cooler full of groceries left on a picnic table, unsecured garbage at a residence, dog food outside, low-hanging bird feeders, or food stored in a hunting camp wall tent are attractive, easy marks for a hungry bear.
"All bears are opportunists; their whole life revolves around food," Fish and Game conservation educator Evin Oneale said. "They remember every single location where they receive a food reward, and if they get one from your camp or residence, they will be back for more."
That spells trouble for everyone, particularly the bear.
"The pattern is always the same," O'Connell said. "A food reward only encourages the bear to return, where it becomes more bold and aggressive as it searches out additional food. The situation can quickly deteriorate into an issue of human safety."
"The old adage, ÔA fed bear is a dead bear,' isn't just a catchy slogan, it's reality," he said. "You can't relocate a bear that has learned bad habits; it will only cause the same trouble in its new location. So too often, because of irresponsible human behavior, it is the bear that pays the price with its life."
The good news is this sad scenario is completely avoidable.
"Common sense in bear country is really all that's needed," O'Connell said. "Securing food, garbage and anything else that a bear might consider food is the answer. If a bear does not receive a food reward, it will move on."
Homeowners, campers and hunters can help keep bears wild and avoid costly property damage themselves by taking some simple precautions:
- Keep pet food secured as you do your own, and not in a bowl outdoors. Bears like pet food as much as your dog or cat.
- Avoid filling bird feeders until wintertime.
- Keep garbage in a secure location and place it at the curb only on the morning of pick up.
- When selecting a campsite, look for recent signs of bear activity. If you see them, look for an alternative campsite.
- Keep your camp clean; cook and prepare food well away from your sleeping area.
- Do not store food in your tent.
- Hang your food away from your sleeping area in a bag at least 10 feet off the ground and at least four feet from the nearest trunk. Or use commercially available bear-resistant containers, and locate them away from your sleeping area.
- Do not store personal hygiene products, such as toothpaste or deodorant, in your tent; secure these items with your food.
- Do not bury or throw garbage into the nearby woods. Burn all combustible garbage thoroughly and secure the remainder with your food.
- Hang harvested animals at least 10 feet off of the ground and at least four feet from the nearest tree trunk. A meat pole slung between two trees is a good option.
If you encounter a persistent or aggressive bear, contact your local Fish and Game office with the details.
Unpleasant experiences with bears are mostly avoidable. Taking some simple, preventive measures and using good old fashioned common sense will go a long way towards minimizing bear conflicts this fall.