Living in Harmony with Bears:
Bears and “Food”

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Bears that become attracted to garbage, pet food and birdseed can become public safety hazards.

Keeping bears away from human food is perhaps the most important thing we can do to prevent conflicts and confrontations between bears and people.

It is against the law to feed bears. The law states, “A person may not intentionally feed a moose, deer, elk, bear, wolf, coyote, fox, or wolverine, or negligently leave human food, animal food, or garbage in a manner that attracts these animals.” It is also against the law to kill a bear you have attracted by improperly storing human food, animal food, or garbage.

A fed bear is a dead bear. Bad habits are hard to break and bears are creatures of habit. Bears seek out the same wild foods in the same places year after year. Bears conditioned to eating human food behave the same way. They keep returning to the same neighborhoods, campgrounds, and dumpsters, until food is no longer available or until they are killed.

Remember: Food conditioned bears can be aggressive. A person who allows bears to feed on improperly stored food or garbage may well be putting other people at risk.

Bears like garbage. Garbage is both nutritious and available, which makes it ideal bear food.

What we can do around our homes and cabins.

Preventing bear problems is everyone's responsibility. Work within your neighborhood and community to encourage others to manage their garbage, dog food, birdseed — anything that might attract a bear. Encourage your neighbors not to put out garbage for pickup the night before. If there is a bear in the neighborhood, let people know. Work together to protect your neighborhood and to conserve bears.

Store garbage and animal feed inside secure buildings or in bear-proof containers. Keep your garbage secured until just before scheduled pickup. If you take your garbage to a collection site, do so regularly. Make sure to place it in the dumpster and close the lid. These collection sites attract bears.

Pack your garbage out. At your weekend cabin, keep your garbage in a bear-proof container such as a steel drum fitted with a locking lid, and take it home with you. If you bury or burn your garbage, it may still attract bears.

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A sow and three cubs, destroyed as the direct result of improper garbage storage and disposal.

Bears like pet food, horse feed, meat scraps and fish. Keep them in a secure place. Barbecues can also be powerful attractants. Storing them in a protected place and burning off grease after each meal helps to discourage bears.

Place your garden so it doesn't attract bears. Placing your garden in the open, away from cover and game trails, helps to discourage bears. Avoid composting anything you think a bear might like to eat. Fish and meat are favorites, and seaweed and kelp have enough fishy smell to attract hungry bears.

Domestic animals draw bears. Keep them where they are safe. Chickens and rabbits kept in outside pens are easy and attractive prey.

Bears, especially black bears, like birdseed and suet. Don’t feed birds between early April and late October. Clean up uneaten food and seed hulls each spring when you put your feeders away.

Electric fences can be effective. If used properly, electric fences can keep bears out of gardens and compost piles. They can also protect cabins and domestic animals.

Food and Camping – Do's and Don'ts

What we can do when hunting, camping, and hiking.

Plan how to keep food and bears separate before you start out. Bear-proof containers should be part of every camping trip in bear country. They are available at major outdoor stores and are required equipment for backpackers in most national parks.

Keep a clean camp. Don’t leave unattended food where bears can get to it. If possible hang your food where bears can’t reach it or place it in bear-proof food containers. If you leave camp, don’t leave anything a bear might like to eat. If food or garbage cannot be secured it should be placed far away from human and bear activity.

Cook where you can see. This gives you time to see bears at a distance. Plan what you would do if a bear approached while you were cooking dinner. It helps to keep track of wind direction as bears are more likely to approach from downwind. Many experienced outdoors people eat early so that they’ll still be awake if a bear comes to investigate dinner smells. Some backpackers even stop and cook en route to their camp site so that there are no food odors where they sleep.

Don't cook smelly foods. Bacon can bring in bears from a long way — especially if they’ve had it before. Bears have an incredible sense of smell. Not only do bears react to scents they come upon accidentally; they purposefully use their noses to “search” for food.

Don't sleep where you eat and cook. Moving off 100 yards or more is helpful. Keep snacks, toothpaste, cosmetics, and any clothing that has been soiled by food or game butchering out of your tents and with your food supply.

Don't fish around bears. Do not fish when bears are close enough to notice a fish splashing on your line. This may mean a distance of several hundred yards or more. If bears are fishing where you want to fish, sit down and do some bear watching. Don’t let bears get your fish. If you make a mistake and a bear runs after the salmon you have hooked — cut it loose. Bears are quick to associate fishermen with easy fish meals. If you clean fish next to a salmon stream you are likely to attract gulls. Be aware that bears know calling, circling, or feeding gulls mean food. They may come at a run. Always discard fish guts into the water, and place butchered fish in plastic bags. Keep your catch with you. Do not leave it unattended on the stream bank.

This information is used with permission and adapted from Living in Harmony with Bears, a project of the Alaska State Office of the National Audubon Society. It is designed to help people co-exist with brown/grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) and black bears (Ursus americanus).