JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri is home to an estimated 900 black bears with most being in the southern part of the state. As spring gets underway, these magnificent mammals leave their winter dens in search of food. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) reminds Missourians to “Be Bear Aware.”
MDC Black Bear Biologist Nate Bowersock said it is important that people remove or secure bear attractants from their property, such as bird feeders, trash, barbeque grills, pet food, and food waste.
“As black bears become active in spring, they are on the search for food,” said Bowersock. “Keeping areas free of attractants to allow bears to find natural foods on their own is in everyone’s best interest. If you see a bear, leave the animal alone and enjoy the sighting, but be sure to not offer it any food.”
He noted that intentionally feeding bears can be dangerous as it makes the bears comfortable around people. It can also lead bears to cause significant damage to property while searching for a meal.
“When bears lose their fear of humans, they could approach people in search of food or become defensive around food sources or territory they associate with people, which can make them dangerous,” said Bowersock. “When this happens, the bear cannot be relocated and has to be destroyed. A fed bear is a dead bear.”
Food is usually a bear’s main motivator, but that also means it can be a main source of conflict. MDC offers these tips to avoid attracting black bears to possible food sources:
- Stash and latch trash. Store garbage, recyclables, and compost inside a secure building or in a bear-proof container until trash pick-up day.
- Keep grills and smokers clean and store them inside.
- Don’t leave pet food outside. Feed pets a portion at each meal and remove the empty containers.
- Refrain from using birdfeeders in bear country from April through November.
- Use electric fencing to keep bears away from beehives, chicken coops, vegetable gardens, orchards, and other potential food sources.
- Keep campsites clean and store all food, toiletries and trash in a secure vehicle or strung high between two trees. Do not keep food or toiletries in a tent, and do not burn or bury garbage or food waste.
Avoid conflicts with bears before damage occurs through prevention rather than dealing with a bear that already has discovered a food source. Learn more at mdc.mo.gov/wildlife/nuisance-problem-species/black-bear-control.
While black bears are generally a shy, non-aggressive species and bear attacks are rare, follow these tips when outdoors in bear country:
- Make noise, such as clapping, singing or talking loudly, to prevent surprising a bear.
- Travel in a group if possible.
- Keep dogs leashed.
- Be aware of surroundings. If there is sign of a bear, such as tracks or scat, avoid the area.
- Leave bears alone! Do not approach them, and make sure they have an escape route.
Report bear sightings online at short.mdc.mo.gov/4gF.
For more information on Missouri black bears and how to Be Bear Aware, visit MDC online at mdc.mo.gov/wildlife/wildlife-facts/be-bear-aware.
In addition to directly educating Missourians on how to Be Bear Aware about black bears in the state, MDC is also affiliated with the BearWise® program. BearWise is a multi-state education effort developed by black bear biologists and supported by state wildlife agencies, such as MDC, that provides sound information and smart solutions that help people, neighborhoods, and communities prevent problems with black bears and keep bears wild. BearWise shares ways to prevent conflicts, provides resources to resolve problems, and encourages community initiatives to keep bears wild. Learn more at bearwise.org/.