The black bear is one of the most fascinating wildlife species in the Adirondacks. Residents and visitors are constantly introducing human food and garbage into the home of the black bear. Wild, non-habituated bears forage for foods such as berries, nuts, insects, and grasses.
These bears will not normally show an interest in our food unless they are first introduced to it through our careless behavior. If they cannot easily get to our food they will look elsewhere. When we store food and garbage poorly, bears are attracted to this easily accessible food rather than the natural foods they must work to acquire.
Feeding Bears is Bad for Bears. Eating human food and trash is unhealthy for bears; often when feeding on garbage or camper’s supplies bears will eat items such as soap, shaving cream, insect repellant, and food packaging. Easy access to human food and garbage can also reduce bears’ natural foraging behavior and often leads to aggressiveness. Bears that are conditioned to human food sometimes become bold and fearless around humans and spend more time foraging near campsites and developed sites including residential areas. They easily learn to associate humans with food and have learned to break into cars, raid tents and coolers, and ransack food bags hung from trees in search of an easy meal.
A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear. When bears start to associate humans with food, their normal tendency to avoid humans begins to change. They begin to approach campsites and dwellings where they are more prone to encounters with humans. These bears can become aggressive and are often labeled “nuisance” bears. They often cause considerable property damage in their search for human foods, from torn or damaged camping equipment, to broken windows or doors on cabins and cottages. They are also more likely to be struck by vehicles as they cross roadways near houses, campgrounds and restaurants, and also to be killed illegally by landowners worried about safety or property damage.
It is illegal to feed bears. While chances of a serious or fatal attack by a black bear are highly unlikely, it is important to keep a safe distance from bears and not lure them. In fact, it is illegal to feed bears anywhere in the Adirondacks either intentionally or unintentionally.
It’s simple keep our Adirondack bears wild by keeping all of your food and garbage sealed up tight. Below are some bear tips:
At the campground:
* Never leave food, garbage, coolers or dirty dishes unattended at your campsite.
* Store food and garbage in your car and out of site. Keep the windows shut and food and coolers out of sight.
* Use a provided food storage unit where provided such as food lockers.
* Clean up immediately after meals. Keep pots and pans, grills, cooking utensils and washbasins clean after each use. Do not wash dishes under the water faucets.
* Do not place food scraps, grease, garbage, diapers, cans, bottles, or other garbage in the fireplace. Burning food scraps makes the smell more attractive to bears. The only thing that should go into the fireplace is fuel for the fire and even that should only be put in the fireplace while you have a fire. Never put waste in the fire thinking, “I’ll burn it later when I have a fire.”
* Keep your campsite clean. Take all garbage and recyclables to the recycling center each day.
* Never bring any food, garbage, coolers, or odorous item in your tent including toothpaste, soaps, and candy wrappers.
In the Backcountry:
* Keep a clean, organized camp. Food and garbage odors can attract bears from a considerable distance.
* Make sure that you know where all of your food is and store it properly and a safe distance from your camp.
* Use a commercially manufactured bear-resistant food canister to store your food, toiletries, and garbage. Canisters are required in the eastern High Peaks Wilderness Area and are a proven effective means for preventing bears from obtaining your food. Consider using bear-resistant food canisters on all of your trips. The can be purchased or rented from many outdoor equipment retailer and outfitters.
* Learn about the natural, seasonal bear foods in your camping area and try to avoid disturbing areas where they may be feeding.
At Camp or Home:
* Store garbage securely indoors, not on a porch, or use bear-resistant garbage cans.
* Do not burn garbage. Burning garbage makes it more attractive to bears and is illegal in many communities.
* Clean up any odorous scraps or items from your yard or lake-front area such as fish carcasses, grease, fat, or dirty diapers.
* If you have garbage pick-up service, put garbage at the curb the morning of pick up, not the night before.
* Keep barbeque grills clean and free from grease. Turn them on high for a few minutes after cooking. Keep them inside, if possible.
* Bird feeders are a strong attractant for bears, even if they cannot reach it. Feed the birds in the winter months only.
* Do not feed family pets outside. An empty dish can attract a bear.
What do I do if I see a black bear?
If you have a surprise encounter with a black bear in the Adirondacks remain calm. The bear is usually just as surprised and will normally run the other way. If a bear does not run from you immediately, it may be temporarily distracted, unaware of your presence or unable to identify you.
* Stand where you are or back away slowly. If the bear does not leave, remain calm. Stand your ground if the bear begins to approach.
* Speak to the bear in a calm voice and waving your arms may help it identify you.
* The bear may stand up on its hind legs for a better look or to catch your scent before leaving the area.
* Never run from a bear and don’t try to climb a tree to escape! Black bears may have a tendency to chase you when they would not otherwise and they climb trees very quickly and much better than you. Both situations will put you at a disadvantage.
* Black bears are generally timid and shouting or clapping will generally be enough to keep them away.
* If a bear approaches you, your tent, or your camping area, make noise to alert it to your presence and encourage it to leave.
* If it persists or follows you, aggressively defend yourself. Raising your arms may help you appear larger to the bear.
* Do not throw a pack or any food to a bear as a distraction. This will only encourage a bear to approach other people for food or packs. If possible, quickly gather any food left out and store it securely in a canister or back away with it. Leaving food for the bears will only encourage them to repeat the cycle.
* If a bear does get into your food do not attempt to drive it away. Bears can aggressively defend their food sources. Back away, warn others in the area and report the incident to a ranger as soon as possible.
* Never approach bears and don’t give them a reason to approach you!
Understanding the needs of our wildlife and knowing how you can protect them will enhance your experience in the Park. For more information on black bears and avoiding them, see the DEC web site.
This guest essay was contributed by the Adirondack Forest Preserve Education Partnership, a coalition of Adirondack organizations building on the Leave No Trace philosophy.
This post was first published in the Adirondack Almanack in October 2011. Read more stories about Black Bears in the Adirondacks in the Almanack archives.
Photo of black bear courtesy of USGS/National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII).