Bears and people both eat a pretty wide range of things. And, bears seem to have noticed that they like a lot of what we eat, beyond just what you might bring along while Yellowstone camping. If you live in or near bear country, you may encounter a hungry bear in your backyard, especially when young bears first leave their mothers, or when bears of any age are fattening up for the winter. Moms with young may also be in search of food. Remember how a popular brand of cheesy crackers carried a big warning message, “Get Your Own Box!” covering the whole back of the package? That mega-font message was apparently meant to fend off hungry siblings, spouses, or roommates. Not sure how well that worked out for anyone! But if you’re trying to fend off bears who are sniffing around your home for food, here you’ll find some helpful bear proof food storage tips.
First, consider the temptations…
Imagine you’re a hungry bear… when tempting scents come wafting into your woodland home, you’ll follow your super-sensitive nose to find your way to the source. There’s that greasy grill no one had time to clean… mmmm boy! There’s a smelly bag of trash next to the trashcan—easy enough to get into that. There’s an open compost pile, with tasty food scraps. There’s a hanging container filled with delicious sunflower seeds—and more on the ground below. Oh, and look! Dishes with dog food on the deck—crunchy! And, hey, on your way back home, there’s a row of bushes with berries for dessert! You’re for sure coming back to this place. And, when you do, your curiosity may cause you to explore a little further, perhaps even tearing open a window screen and climbing into the house, where your nose tells you there are even more good things to eat.
Special considerations when camping…
When you’re camping, you’re inviting yourself into bears’ home turf, so you need to avoid creating any dangerous misunderstandings. Bears have supersensitive noses (even better than your dog’s), impressive strength and dexterity, and hearty appetites (especially when emerging from hibernation or when tending young). Here are some basic tips:
- Contact local wildlife authorities in the areas you’ll visit for specific recommendations and follow those carefully.
- Bring foods that don’t give off strong scents.
- Pack foods in bear-proof food canisters or in double plastic bags that seal, and bring extra bags for leftovers.
- Choose an open campsite, rather than one in dense vegetation. Look around for bear sign, such as torn logs, tracks, scat, or claw marks on trees, and choose another site if you see any of these signs.
- Hang your food canisters out of reach of bears (10 feet high and 5 feet from tree) and use counter-balances.
- Cook, eat, and clean up 100 feet downwind of your sleeping area.
- Before retiring to your tent, wash food scents off your hands and face.
- Store clothing worn while cooking in double plastic bags far from tent.
- Use a flashlight and extra caution when walking around at night.
How to keep bears at bay back at home…
Bear-proof food storage is not just about using special food canisters when camping. If you live in bear country, you need to take bears into consideration in how you manage things at home, including your food and food scraps, your pets and their food, your bird feeding decisions, and your gardens and landscaping. In addition to the helpful tips you’ll find in Black Bears and Backyard Food Conflicts, here are guidelines for heading off the most common problems:
Food and food wastes:
- Outdoor grills – When you’re done cooking, burn them clean, wash them down, and remove the grease from the drip can or tray.
- Dining outside – When you finish eating, clean up and remove all food, plates, napkins, etc. before walking away.
- Trash – Store trash in plastic bags inside bear-resistant cans with locking lids, or place trashcans in bear-proof garbage can containers. Or, if you’re handy, you may be able to construct bear-proof trash can enclosures.
- Compost pile – Place it away from the forest edge; maintain it in a bear-proof composter; and don’t include meat, fish, oil, grease, or dairy products. Add lime to reduce odor.
Pets, pet food, and wild bird feeding:
- Keep cats and other small pets indoors unless closely supervised.
- Feed pets indoors.
- During bear season, remove all your bird feeders. Call your state wildlife agency find out when bears are active where you live.
- When you feed birds, store birdseed inside, preferably in cans with locking lids.
- Put out a birdbath to attract birds, which won’t tempt bears.
- Plant flowers for hummingbirds, rather than putting out a nectar feeder.
Gardens and landscaping:
- Don’t use fertilizers with blood meal or fish in them.
- Choose non-fruit-bearing bushes and trees, or harvest fruit before it ripens.
- Pick up any fruit, berries, or nuts that fall on the ground.
- Keep grass mowed, as bears eat grass, dandelions, and clover.
You can’t tell a bear to get his own box of cheese crackers. But you can show him he’s not welcome to forage near your house, simply by managing the temptations. You’ll also want to keep windows and doors closed and locked when bears are active in your area, and learn safety tips for what to do if you encounter a bear in your yard.