There have been several incidents this summer involving black bears, and it’s a good opportunity to remind people about these native Idaho animals. Black bears are common, and their native range includes most of the state. Black bears are typically shy, and any encounter with humans is usually brief, from a safe distance, and ends with the bear fleeing.
Black bear attacks on humans are rare, and there has never been a recorded human death from a black bear in Idaho.
When people see a black bear from a safe distance, they should consider it an exciting and interesting wildlife sighting. But they should not approach or crowd the bear, and it’s often a good idea to talk or yell to get the bear’s attention so it’s aware of your presence, especially if it’s moving in your direction and unaware of you.
Black bears are omnivores with a wide-ranging diet, and most of their diet is plants, but they are capable of killing large animals, so they should always be treated with respect and caution.
While most black bear encounters are random when people and a bear happen to be in the same place at the same time, that’s not always the case. Sometimes bears are attracted to the same areas as people, and people should know how to avoid those situations, or deal with them when they occur.
Bears typically visit a campsite for one reason: food. If you remove that attraction, including garbage, dog food, greasy grills and other attractants, you will rarely, if ever, see a bear in your camp.
Campers should also keep food stored in containers to reduce odors, such as plastic bags, bins and coolers. Store food where bears can’t easily get to it, like inside RVs or vehicles, but don’t bring food into tents. Clean up after cooking and properly dispose of waste. Keeping garbage in a covered container, such as a sealable 5-gallon bucket, can reduce escaping odor.
If you see a bear in your camp, make a commotion, such as yelling, waving or banging pans. The more people the better, but give the bear plenty of space and make sure it has an easy escape route. If it acts aggressively, your safety is more important than your food or gear.
Backpackers and others who camp in the backcountry should consider hanging their food at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet away from tree trunks, or using bear-proof containers to store it in.
Report bear sightings at campgrounds to campground hosts or the land-management agency (U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, etc.) or to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, especially if the bear shows little or no fear of humans, or you have repeat visits.
As at campgrounds, bears typically visit houses or other property (sheds, garages, barns, etc.) if there is food available. Being omnivores, bears are attracted to a wide variety of things, such as garbage, pet food, livestock feed, bird feeders, gardens, fruit trees, etc.
Bears often ramp up their feeding in late summer and fall when they’re fattening up for winter hibernation. If a bear visits your property to feed, it’s likely to return, so remove the food as much as is practical, such as locking garbage cans in a garage, taking your pet food in at night, or picking fruit up off the ground and disposing of it away from the area.
Hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians
If you encounter a bear, give it space and try to move away, carefully, without taking your eyes off the bear. It will usually leave the area, and you probably should, too. Don’t run. That can trigger a bear to chase you.
If you have bear spray, don’t hesitate to use it if the bear approaches, shows no fear, or acts in any way aggressively. Remember: Bear encounters can happen quickly, so bear spray needs to be accessible at all times, not stashed in a backpack, saddle bag or other place where it can’t be quickly deployed.
For more information about black bears, see the Forest Service’s “How to Live with Black Bears” page (www.ncrs.fs.fed.us/epubs/ht66.html); there’s also a variety of digital brochures available at bebearaware.org.
Why doesn’t Fish and Game trap and relocate bears?
In some cases, Fish and Game officials will if they feel a bear is passing through town, private property or campground and hasn’t been habituated to being around people and homes. But bears are attracted to food and will often travel long distances to return to those food sources. Because bears are potentially dangerous and can damage property, those that have been habituated to garbage and similar food sources usually have to be killed.
Even if a bear is moved far away, it can still cause trouble. For example, a bear used to feeding on garbage near homes might look for that food elsewhere, such as campgrounds.
Can bears in found in towns or near homes be sedated and relocated?
Tranquilizers are a tool that Fish and Game uses to sedate animals, and sometimes it’s an appropriate way to remove an animal without euthanizing it, but not always.
Fish and Game officials must consider the safety of their people and the public before deciding if it’s the best course of action.Sedating an animal requires trained Fish and Game personnel to get close to the animal, and when dart guns are used, they must account for all darts fired because they are filled with a drug that’s potentially dangerous to humans. If sedating an animal is deemed unsafe, or personnel trained to sedate animals are not available, killing the bear is usually the alternative.
Are bears dangerous to people?Roger Phillips is a spokesman for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.