The Missouri Department of Conservation estimates that Missouri is home to between 540 and 840 black bears with most being in the southern part of the state. As spring gets underway, these mammals are leaving their winter dens in search of food. As a result, MDC officials want to remind Missouri residents to “Be Bear Aware.”
At this time of year, it is imperative that residents remove bear attractants from their property, such as bird feeders, trash, barbeque grills, pet food and food waste, according to Laura Conlee, MDC resource scientist and furbearer biologist.
“As black bears become active in the spring, they are on a mission to find food,” Conlee said. “Keeping areas free of attractants and letting bears find natural foods is in everyone’s best interest. If you see a bear, let the animal be and enjoy the sighting, but be sure to not offer it any food.”
Intentionally feeding bears can be dangerous, as it makes the bears comfortable around people, Conlee said. It can also lead bears to cause significant damage to property while searching for a meal.
“When bears lose their fear of humans, they could approach people in search of food or may defend the food sources or territory they associate with people, which can make them dangerous,” Conlee said.
“When this happens, the bear cannot be relocated and has to be destroyed,” she explained.
This is what MDC officials and experts mean when they promote the saying, “A fed bear is a dead bear,” she added.
Avoid bear encounters:
Food is usually a bear’s main motivator, but that also means it can be a main source of conflict. Conservation-department officials offer the following tips to avoid attracting black bears to possible food sources:
— Store garbage, recyclables and compost inside a secure building or in a bear-proof container until trash pick-up day.
— Keep grills and smokers clean and store them inside.
— Don’t leave pet food outside. Feed pets a portion at each meal and remove the empty containers.
— Refrain from using bird feeders in bear country from April through November. If in use, hang them at least 10 feet high and 4 feet away from any structure. Keep in mind that even if a bear cannot get to the birdseed, the scent could still attract it to the area.
— Use electric fencing to keep bears away from beehives, chicken coops, vegetable gardens, orchards and other potential food sources.
— Keep campsites clean, and store all food, toiletries and trash in a secure vehicle or strung high between two trees. Do not keep food or toiletries in a tent, and do not burn or bury garbage or food waste.
If you do encounter a bear:
While black bears are generally a shy, non-aggressive species and bear attacks are rare, MDC officials offer these tips when outdoors in bear country:
— Make noise, such as clapping, singing or talking loudly, while hiking to prevent surprising a bear.
— Travel in a group if possible.
— Keep dogs leashed.
— Be aware of the surroundings. If there is evidence of a bear, such as tracks or scat, avoid the area.
— Leave bears alone. Do not approach them, and make sure they have an escape route.
— Report bear sightings and post photos online at mdc.mo.gov/reportbears.
For more information about Missouri black bears and how to “Be Bear Aware,” visit the MDC website mdc.mo.gov/bearaware. More information about the department’s Missouri Black Bear Project is available at research.mdc.mo.gov/project/missouri-black-bear-project.
(Editor’s note: The Missouri Division of Tourism provided information for this article.)