‘Bears are out and active,’ DWR warns

FILE: A file image of a black bear. Photo: PIXNIO

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is urging people who camp in Utah or live in Utah’s foothills to “bear-proof” their food and garbage.

“Utah’s bears are out and active, and the number of bears reported getting into garbage and food this month has doubled from last July,” a news release from Utah DWR said.

In the last month, DWR employees have responded to more than 25 reports of bears rummaging campsites and residential trash cans, or otherwise getting into coolers and garbage. Twenty of those incidents were either in central Utah or along the Wasatch Front.

The reports of bear sightings the DWR has received this summer have differed significantly for the same period in 2018.

“Last year at this time, there were 11 reports statewide of bears in neighborhoods or campsites. Last year, most of those incidents occurred in the southern part of the state,” the news release said.

Utah’s bear population has grown since last year, and this year’s wetter spring may also have been a factor, the DWR explained.

“Another reason for the increase in bear incidents is that the summer of 2018 was extremely dry,” DWR wildlife biologist Riley Peck said in the news release. “As a result, some bears could have gone into hibernation a little leaner than normal. This was then followed by a very wet, cool spring that kept bears hibernating in their dens a little longer than usual. The combination of those two things could be making the bears a little bolder in trying to acquire their needed calories.”

The DWR offered the following safety tips to bear-proof your home or campsite:

Bear-proof your home outdoor garbage cans

Several of the recent bear reports have involved bears getting into trash cans or dumpsters in neighborhoods and at cabins. Make sure to store your trash in a secure location or bear-proof container. If you don’t have access to a bear-safe garbage can or dumpster, make sure to store your garbage can in your garage and put it out for pick up in the morning, rather than the night before. Also, make sure to clean your trash container regularly to eliminate some of the odors, which attract bears.

Remove items that will attract a bear to your house

Utah is bear country, and especially so if you live in the foothills or other mountainous parts of the state. It is important to eliminate, properly secure or clean yard items that may attract a bear. Some of these include:

• Birdfeeders (both seed and hummingbird)
• Fruit trees
• Compost piles
• Beehives
• Pet food and water bowls
• Unsupervised outdoor pets (especially at night)
• Barbecue grills

Bear-proof your food while camping

Store your food, snacks and scented items (such as deodorant and toothpaste) in an area where a bear can’t get to them. Do not leave them out on tables or keep them in your tent. Storing them in a locked trailer or locking them in the trunk of your car are both good options. Storing food and scented items in these areas will reduce the chance that a bear smells them. And, if a bear does make its way to the area where you’re staying, if it isn’t rewarded with food, it will likely move on.

Keep your campsite clean

Don’t toss food scraps and other trash around your campsite or cabin area. Instead, put it in trash bags, and take it home with you. Several of this year’s bear incidents have occurred because trash was left in a non-bear-proof dumpster at the campsite. Make sure to wipe down picnic tables and keep the area free of food and other debris. Always keep your campsite or cabin area clean because a dirty campsite can attract bears long after you’ve left.

“If a bear visits the area after you leave and then someone comes into that area to
camp, you’ve created a potentially dangerous situation,” DWR mammals coordinator Darren DeBloois said.

What to do if you encounter a bear

  • Stand your ground:
  • Never back up, lie down or play dead. Stay calm and give the bear a chance to leave. Prepare to use your bear spray or another deterrent.
  • Don’t run away or climb a tree.
  • Black bears are excellent climbers and can run up to 35 mph — you cannot outclimb or outrun them.
  • Know bear behavior.
  • If a bear stands up, grunts, moans or makes other sounds, it’s not being aggressive. These are the ways a bear gets a better look or smell and expresses its interest.
  • If a black bear attacks, always fight back.
  • And never give up! People have successfully defended themselves with almost anything: rocks, sticks, backpacks, water bottles and even their hands and feet.
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