Bears… what’s not to love about them? They’re amazing, intelligent, and charismatic. Bear moms are wonderful parents. Bear cubs are absurdly adorable. But, bears can also be a challenge for homeowners in some areas. Usually the conflicts occur when they’re attracted to foods found in the yard. They get into gardens, pet food, birdfeeders, grills, compost piles, and garbage cans, creating a mess and damaging things. Not surprisingly, complaints tend to rise when bears are at their hungriest—late summer and fall—as they’re fattening up to survive winter hibernation.
During this ferocious feeding frenzy, they must gain three to five pounds every day. That means consuming about 20,000 calories per day, or ten times what a typical adult male human would eat. It’s helpful to understand the challenge bears face—and to know that preventing their “bad behavior” in your yard is largely in your control.
Black bears looking for food…
Black bears are blessed with amazing noses… seven times stronger than the nose of a bloodhound. With a nose like that, and keen sight and hearing, bears quickly and easily discover food opportunities we inadvertently provide in our yards. Think about it:
- What is a garden to a bear, except a manicured extension of natural habitat with food-bearing plants? They have no idea your veggies “belong” to you. Electric wire fencing can be used to discourage them from foraging in your garden.
- Do you put food outside for your pets? Anything left behind is a buffet that beckons. Feed your pets indoors if at all possible, or at least try putting food out only while you’re there with your pet, and bring the dishes in as soon as they walk away. Pet food stored outside should be in secured metal bins.
- Do you feed the birds? How are bears supposed to know those bird feeders aren’t just inconveniently placed and poorly designed bear feeders? If you live near bears, consider not feeding birds, or place feeders as far as possible from your house. During bear season, remove all your bird feeders. To find out when bears will be active where you live, call your state wildlife agency.
- How about your grill? Even if it’s been quite a while since you fired it up, if you didn’t scrub it down or dispose of the drip can, it likely still smells pretty tempting to a bear with a belly to fill. Keep it clean and as far from your house as possible.
- Compost piles are another temptation. If bears roam where you live, don’t put food scraps in the pile, or you’re inviting bears into your yard. Dispose of scraps another way, or purchase a compost bin meant to withstand a bear’s determined prodding.
- Garbage is a major attractant. It’s convenient to put it out the night before, and the barrel you have may work fine in some places. But where there are bears, it’s best to keep your trash locked up in the shed or garage until morning, just before the trucks come. Or, you could buy or build a bear-proof container or shelter for it.
- Recyclables should also be kept in the shed, garage, or a bear-proof container. Even after washing, the scent of foods will be evident to a bear’s super-sensitive nose.
Bears wandering in suburbs…
Young bears are sometimes seen wandering into suburban areas. Aside from food, they are actually seeking their first independent home and probably want to find their way out of your neighborhood, but need a little time and space to do so. If it becomes necessary, your state wildlife agency—or sometimes your local animal care and control agency—may be able to safely and humanely capture and relocate a bear or use aversive conditioning to stop the problematic behavior.
What to do if you encounter a bear in your yard?
The best way to reduce your chance of a dangerous encounter with a bear in your yard is through prevention. But if you do encounter a black bear, remember that black bears can usually be frightened off, unlike grizzly bears or polar bears. Follow these basic rules, and the bear should leave without incident:
- Do not approach or chase the bear.
- Be as calm as possible, speak in a calm voice, and begin backing away slowly. In most cases the bear doesn’t want a confrontation either and will leave.
- If the bear doesn’t leave, and you’re absolutely certain it’s a black bear, you may consider encouraging it to leave by yelling at it and making loud noises with pots and pans or other metal objects.
- Throw things at the bear—whatever is handy. (Sounds cheeky, but it works.)
- Make yourself appear bigger by spreading your arms wide—preferably with a jacket on.
- Don’t run if the bear charges. It’s most likely a bluff charge—and in any case, you can’t outrun a bear. Stand still and the bear will likely turn the other way and run.
- Equip yourself with bear repellant spray whenever you are outdoors and have it at the ready should you need it.
After the bear leaves, check out all things in your yard that may have attracted him and get them under control. If you live in bear country, you need to be vigilant about eliminating food temptations in your yard. Then, next time a bear is on his way through your yard, his nose will tell him there’s nothing good to eat. He’ll keep on trekking, leaving you to enjoy your appreciation of bears as a cool species—at a comfortable distance.
Get more information about how to respond to a defensive bear or aggressive bear at the Get Bear Smart Society.