The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is reminding campers, hikers and homeowners to take precautions against unwanted encounters with black bears (Ursus americanus). There are approximately 4,000 – 5,000 bears in New York’s northern bear range, primarily in the Adirondacks. Bear populations have been increasing in number and expanding in distribution over the past decade. Ten nuisance bears have been euthanize over the past two years in the Adirondacks, primarily from areas around the Fulton Chain, after be unwittingly fed by visiting campers.
Black bears will become a nuisance and can cause significant damage if they believe they can obtain an easy meal from bird feeders, garbage cans, dumpsters, barbecue grills, tents, vehicles, out-buildings or houses. When bears learn to obtain food from human sources, their natural foraging habits and behavior are changed.
When bears learn to obtain food from human sources, their natural foraging habits and behavior are changed. It is illegal to intentionally feed bears and the incidental or indirect feeding of bears is illegal once a written warning has been issued by DEC.
Once a bear becomes a problem, DEC is often asked to intervene. However, bear relocations are rarely effective at solving the problem. Relocated bears often return to their original capture site or simply continue their bad habits at a new location. If the circumstances that led to the original problem are not corrected, other bears will quickly be attracted to the site and the problems will persist. Bears that become accustomed to obtaining food from humans will often become bold and assertive in their quest for food, potentially leading to property damage or dangerous situations for humans. Unfortunately, this often results in DEC having to euthanize the bear, echoing the adage, “a fed bear is a dead bear.”
The most effective way to prevent bears from becoming a problem is by not attracting them to your home, camp or campsite.
Prevent Problems with Bears at Home and Camp
* Never feed bears, it is illegal in New York State to intentionally feed bears.
* If you believe that bears are being fed report it to DEC.
* Stop feeding birds as soon as the snow melts.
* Dispose of garbage as frequently as possible.
* Put garbage out just before a scheduled pickup or use bear-resistant containers.
* Do not add meat scraps, bones or melon rinds to your compost pile.
* Do not burn garbage, especially meat scraps and grease.
* Clean barbecue grills before night fall and, after they cool down, store them inside;
* Feed pets indoors and store pet food indoors.
Prevent Problems with Bears While Hiking and Camping
* Store food, toiletries and garbage in bear resistant containers or “food hangs.” If you have no choice but to hang your food, be sure to use a dark colored cord. The cord should be 75 feet long and the bag should be hung 15 feet above the ground and at least 10 feet away from trees.
* Keep food in hangs or in bear resistant containers at all times, take down only what is needed for cooking. Bear resistant canisters are a highly effective means for preventing bears from getting food, toiletries and garbage from back country campers. For more information about bear resistant containers, see www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7225.html on the DEC website.
* Bear resistant containers are required to be used by all overnight campers within the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness Zone of the Adirondack Forest Preserve.
* Never leave food unattended unless it is in a bear resistant container or in a food hang.
* Never cook or eat in your sleeping area.
* Cook early, no later than 5 p.m. if at all possible.
Prevent Problems with Bears at Campgrounds
* Do not leave coolers or food out at any time. Store them securely in either the trunk of your car or in the passenger area of your truck. Keep windows shut and food and coolers out of sight.
* Where food lockers are provided, food and coolers must be stored and locked inside.
* Clean up immediately after all meals.
* Clean grills, pots, pans, cooking utensils, and wash basins after each use.
* Do not wash dishes under the water faucets.
* Do not put grease, garbage, plastic diapers, cans, bottles or other refuse into the fireplace.
* Do not keep food or coolers in your tent.
* Do not wear clothing to bed that was worn while preparing or eating meals.
* Keep campsites as clean as possible. Bring all garbage and recyclables to the recycling center each day by 8 p.m.
While these rules are required to be followed at DEC campgrounds, campers at other private and public campgrounds are also strongly encouraged to follow these practices to avoid bear encounters.
Photo courtesy the New York State Museum via Smithsonian Wild.