Drought conditions may cause bear problems
Utah wildlife officials are urging people to help the states black bears by keeping a clean campsite and not intentionally feeding them this summer.
"The drought has reduced the number of berries and nuts that black bears eat in the summer, so there's a good chance more bears will be attracted to campgrounds in search of food, and that's not good," stated Craig McLaughlin, mammals coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources.
McLaughlin says because black bears are wild animals, they're typically afraid of people. "That changes as soon as they begin to associate people with a place to get food," he said. "They start losing their fear of people and can become aggressive and dangerous. The only option we have when a bear reaches this point is to kill it to protect the public," McLaughlin explained.
"Killing a bear is not something we like to do and we're asking the public to not put us in that situation this summer."
McLaughlin says food is what attracts bears to people and that by following a few simple rules, people can virtually eliminate problems between themselves and bears. He encourages people to do the following:
Keep campsites clean. Don't leave garbage, food scraps and fat drippings in the fire pit, or scattered around the campsite. Instead, place them in an air tight container and take them home when leaving the area.
Keep the cooking grills and utensils in the camping area clean.
Don't leave food out. Instead, store food and coolers in the trunk of the car, in a camping trailer, in a bear proof container or suspended at least 12 feet high between two trees, so bears can't reach them.
Never intentionally feed bears by leaving food out for them.
Bears have an incredible sense of smell, so make sure to cook away from the tent or sleeping area. Also, don't sleep in the clothes that were worn while cooking or cleaning fish. Leave those clothes, along with utensils, rags and anything else used in food preparation, cooking, eating and clean up, at the cooking area or sealed inside a vehicle.
McLaughlin says when these rules are not followed, there are not many alternatives left.
"The first thing we'll do with a bear that's just gotten into trouble is haze it with rubber bullets or hounds, or capture it in hopes that the experience will scare it enough that it won't want to visit the campground again," he explained. "This only works with bears that are brand new to the campground, however. Bears that have already associated the campground with food will come back as soon as we move them."
McLaughlin says bears have an incredible homing ability and can find their way back to an area that's as far as 100 miles away.
"If we move a bear farther away than that, all we've done is shift the problem to a new area of the state," McLaughlin explained. "The bear is used to looking to campgrounds for food, and it will roam and find a campground in the new area."
"It's very simple to avoid putting a bear in a situation where it has to be killed to protect public safety and we hope people will follow our advice this summer," he concluded.
For more information, contact the nearest DWR office.