Be ‘Bear Aware’ in bear country

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Local residents to store their pic-a-nic baskets safely away from Yogi, Boo Boo

Black bears are an exciting part of Missouri’s natural history.

Although black bears are native to Missouri, they were nearly wiped out during settlement — but according to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), they’re making a comeback and sightings are becoming more common all over the state. Agents with the MDC recommend area residents follow these “Bear Aware” guidelines to stay safe in bear country, and keep bears wild.

“Never feed a bear,” said Daniel Shores, Barry County conservation agent. “Feeding bears makes them lose their natural fear of humans, and teaches them to see humans as food providers. They will learn to visit places like homes, campsites, and neighborhoods to look for food, instead of staying in the forest and relying on natural foods. When this happens, oftentimes the bear has to be destroyed. Help bears stay wild and keep yourself and your neighbors safe. Don’t feed bears. Remember, a fed bear is a dead bear.”

Black bears are seldom aggressive and attacks are extremely rare. If one should encounter a bear, never corner it and make sure it has an escape route.

“Back away slowly with your arms raised,” Shores said. “Speak in a calm, loud voice. Do not turn your back to the bear. Walk away slowly. Do not run.”

While hiking outdoors, make noise so as not to surprise a bear.

“Clap, sing, or talk loudly,” Shores said. “Travel in a group if possible. Pay attention to your surroundings and watch for bear sign such as tracks or droppings. Keep dogs leashed.”

Those who feel the need to carry bear spray should know how to use it.

“Bear spray is proven to be the easiest and most effective way to deter a bear that threatens you,” Shores said. “Bear spray comes out as a fog instead of a jet. The idea is to create a barrier of spray that the bear would have to pass through before it can get to you.”

When camping, remember that odors attract bears. Keep a clean campsite. Store all food, garbage and toiletries like toothpaste and deodorant in a secure vehicle or strung high between two trees. Never burn or bury garbage or food waste. Many coolers are now bear resistant as well.

“Hunters and anglers are most likely to encounter bears because they move quietly and travel in the early morning and evening hours when bears may be starting to feed,” Shores said.”However, bears can be active at any time of day or night. Know that carcasses, gut piles, and bait may attract bears. If a bear beats you to your catch or kill, do not try to reclaim it; leave the area when it is safe to do so. If a bear approaches your tree stand or blind; stand up, speak and make your presence known. Bears can be curious and may not recognize a person in full camouflage as a human. There is no reason to wait until a bear is climbing your tree to decide that now is the time to alert them to your presence.”

Shores also urges homeowners to make sure their homes and yards are unwelcome to bears.

“Don’t leave pet food sitting outside,” he said. “Feed pets a portion they’ll eat at each meal and remove the empty containers. Store garbage, recyclables and compost inside a secure building or in a bear-proof container until the day of trash pick-up. Keep grills and smokers clean and store them inside. Don’t use bird feeders from April through November in bear country. If you must, hang them at least 10 feet high and four feet away from any structure. Use electric fencing to keep bears away from beehives, chicken coops, vegetable gardens, orchards, and other potential food sources. Alert neighbors to any bear activity and share information on how to avoid bear conflicts.

“Bears have adapted to living near people and now it is up to us to adapt to living near bears,” Shores said.

Black bear hunting is approaching its second season in Missouri, set for Oct. 17-26 this year. Hunters may take one per season of either sex, so long as it is alone. Hunters may also not harass any bear taking refuge in a den. Hunters must call 800-668-4045 prior to hunting each day to determine if the harvest quota has been met.

Poachers may face fines of $10,000 to $15,000 for each elk or black bear killed illegally, $1,000-$5,000 for each whitetailed buck, $500-$1,000 for each wild turkey, and $500-$1,000 for each paddlefish. New fine amounts went into effect during the 2019-2020 hunting season.For more information, visit MDC.mo.gov and BearWise.org. Contact local conservation agents about any bear conflicts. In Barry County, Shores can be reached at 417-229-4706. In Lawrence County, Andrew Barnes may be reached by calling 417-461-4586.

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