With an exception during the archery hunt, using food scraps and other savory items to bait in bears is illegal in Utah. It can also be the tip of an iceberg for future bear problems.
Recently, conservation officer Terry Smith of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources cited two individuals with bear pursuit tags for baiting bears in northeastern Utah. These individuals intended to lure the bears in with the bait and then use dogs to tree the animals. Under a pursuit tag, the bear is not taken.
It seemed tothe individuals like a harmless activity. After all the bear would not be taken but, Smith explained, this could lead to future problems down the road.
"Bear baiting is an old practice but, with the exception of a few archery hunters, it is illegal in Utah," Smith explained. "Even during the archery hunt, baiting is well-controlled. The hunter needs to get permission from the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management or other land management agency to place a bait station. These requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis to make sure the spot is well away from potential trouble spots, such as campgrounds and other recreational use areas."
Bears have an excellent sense of smell, so it's relatively simple to attract them into a bait station located in bear habitat. What the bears learn at the site could cause future problems.
"Bears are territorial, opportunistic and relatively intelligent," Smith explained. "It is likely a bait station will not only attract the resident bear, but also some from surrounding territories, and some that may be passing through. The two men I cited were using common foods, such as syrup and sugar. Bears visiting a site like this will quickly learn that these items taste good and will seek them out in other areas."
"All too often the other areas are cabins, campgrounds or vehicles. Thus the bear learns to associate humans with food. Now the wild bear becomes a threat to human safety and has to be shot."
Smith said while this type of bear baiting was intentional, other recreational users also need to be aware of how they can intentionally or unintentionally bait in bears.
"The division gets calls every year about bears raiding camps, cabins or vehicles," Smith continued. "Sometimes the bear is shot during the raid and other times we have to set traps or track it down, but in all cases, the bear loses."
"Most of the problems could be avoided if the people would keep a clean camp and not feed the bears. A fed bear is a dead bear' whether someone intended to feed it or not," Smith stated.
Bears are omnivores and can eat almost anything, including human foods, dog, cat and other pet food, and table scraps and food wastes thrown out in the garbage. With their excellent sense of smell, they can be attracted into a site from miles around.
Picnickers, campers and cabin owners who leave food on the table, in coolers, a fire ring or in the garbage are actually baiting in bears. The question then becomes, what will the bears find?
Smith also explained that outdoor users can live safely with bears if they follow a few common sense rules.
If a bear is spotted, stay calm and don't approach it. Be careful not to get between a mother and her cubs. Make loud noises, retreat slowly and don't make direct eye contact as that is considered an aggressive behavior among bears. If the bear approaches, retreat or climb a tree. If attacked by a black bear (the only wild species now found in Utah), fight back by yelling, kicking, screaming and be aggressive.
Don't feed the bears. Don't give them food directly or leave food out for pets. Feed pets inside or feed them what will be eaten and then remove the extra food.
Keep a clean camp. Clean up food items as quickly as possible and store foods or dispose of the waste products in bear-proof containers. Burning food only attracts bears to the fire. If a bear-proof container isn't available, then place it inside an airtight container and place it inside a car trunk or other place inaccessible to bears. Another method is to suspend items 10 feet above the ground and five to six feet away from either side.
Don't cook and sleep in the same area and don't sleep in clothes that were worn while cooking or eating. These clothes contain food odors, which will attract bears while the camper is sleeping. It's best to leave these clothes with the food and to separate thecooking areas from the sleeping areas by at least 100 yards.
Finally, keep clean. Bears are usually afraid of humans. If a person does not smell like food, it's unlikely that bears will be trouble.
"We know from our investigations that some people find it cute to feed a bear Twinkies and take pictures, but they have just signed that bear's death warrant," Smith concluded.