Homeowners’ encounters with black bears are increasing in America, partly because neighborhoods are expanding into bears’ natural habitats. These encounters can be terrifying and sometimes lead to people foolishly approaching bears. How can you keep bears away? And what should you do if you encounter one?
Types of bears and what attracts them
The black bear is the most common in the United States. They live across a wide swath of the country, particularly in eastern mountainous areas and parts of Florida, Texas and the Mountain West. Grizzly bears, which are much larger than black bears and can be more aggressive, are less common and found mainly in the mountainous northwestern states. You are more likely to encounter a black bear than a grizzly because of their wide distribution and population density in the areas where they live.
Black bears can weigh up to 300 pounds and are omnivorous, meaning they’ll eat plants, insects, animals, and almost any edible item. They are generally shy and prefer to avoid humans.
How to avoid encounters
Black bears are opportunistic feeders. The most important thing you can do to keep from encountering them is to avoid leaving food temptations.
- Use bear-secure trash cans and keep them in a trash can corral.
- Since compost attracts bears, use an indoor compost bin.
- Hang bird feeders out of reach.
- Keep your barbecue grill clean.
- Install an electric fence, motion-detecting lights, and even motion-activated water jet sprayers around your property.
Neighbors should cooperate in protecting against bear encounters.
What to do if you encounter a bear
- Never approach a bear. They are wild animals.
- If you encounter a bear at close range, do not run. This may trigger the bear’s instinct to give chase. Instead, slowly back away. Talk loudly, saying something like “Hey bear! Go away!” Clap your hands or bang items together. Wave your arms to make yourself look bigger than you are. Slowly move inside a house or car until the bear is gone.
- Make sure the bear has a clear escape route. He is more likely to be aggressive if he feels cornered.
- A mother bear will attack ferociously if she believes her cubs are in danger, so if you spot a mother bear with cubs, stay far away.
- If you live in an area known for bear sightings, check the yard before letting your dog out.