|Because black bears are usually afraid of people, they will often stay away from campsites. However, food may attract a hungry bear. Outdoor enthusiasts are encouraged to be take precautions not to attract bears.|
As a new camping season begins in Utah, wildlife officials are urging people to keep their campsites clean and to not feed black bears.
Because black bears are wild animals, they're usually afraid of people, said Kevin Bunnell, mammals program coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources.
"That changes as soon as they start associating people with a place to get food," Bunnell says. "They start to lose their fear of people and can become aggressive and dangerous."
Food is what attracts bears to people, Bunnell said. By following a few simple rules, people can virtually eliminate problems with bears:
Keep your campsite clean. Don't scatter garbage, food scraps and fat drippings around your campsite, and don't leave them in your fire pit. Place them in an air tight container and take them home with you.
Keep the cooking grills and utensils in your camping area clean.
Don't leave food out. Instead, store food and coolers in the trunk of your car, in your camping trailer, in a bear proof container (please remember: plastic garbage cans and plastic food storage containers are not bear proof), 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 you cook away from your tent or sleeping area. Also, don't sleep in the clothes you cooked in or wore while cleaning fish. Leave those clothes, along with utensils, rags and anything else used in food preparation, cooking, eating and clean up, at your cooking area or sealed inside a vehicle.
Bunnell said when people don't follow these rules, wildlife biologists and conservation officers aren't left with many options.
"If this is the first time a bear has just gotten into trouble, we'll haze it with rubber bullets or hounds, or we'll try and capture it. Sometimes these experiences will scare the bear enough that it won't visit that campground again," he said.
"Unfortunately, these methods only work with bears that are brand new to a campground. Bears that have already associated a campground with food will come back to the campground as soon as we move them to a new area."
Bunnell said bears have an incredible homing ability. They can find their way back to an area that's as far as 100 miles away from where they've been moved to.
"It's difficult for our biologists to find remote sites to move 'problem' bears to. If we move a bear, often all we've done is shift the problem to a new area of the state," he said. "The bear is used to looking to campgrounds for food. It will roam and find a campground in any area we place it in."
Bunnell said when a bear returns to an area that it's been moved from, or when a bear poses a threat to people, the DWR has no choice but to euthanize the bear. "It's very simple to avoid putting a bear in a situation where it has to be killed to protect the public," he said.
"We hope people will help the bears by following our advice this year."
Safety tips and a brochure titled "Living in Black Bear Country" are available for free at www.wildlife.utah.gov/bear. Interested outdoor enthusiasts can also call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office, or the DWR's Salt Lake City office at (801) 538-4700, for more information.