New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has issued guidance to reduce the potential for human-bear conflicts.
Conflicts between people and bears typically increase in summer months due to the dispersal of young bears from family groups, the onset of the breeding season, and a lull in natural food availability prior to the ripening of local berries and other natural food sources.
These conditions occasionally cause bears to travel through unfamiliar areas. Bears will take advantage of anything they consider a food source as they travel, adding to the potential for conflict. The most common attractants are poorly stored garbage, bird feeders, messy grills, and pet food left outdoors. Once a bear finds these foods, it will often continue to return to the area in hopes of finding the same food again.
When bears have access to human foods, it encourages behaviors that can put bears at risk. While bears can be intimidating, they generally shy away from getting into conflicts with people. The bears seen recently in the Adirondacks are mostly young individuals dispersing from their natural habitat, searching for new suitable habitat. If bears find reliable food sources near human residences, they may also become temporarily established in green spaces in urban and suburban areas.
Bears will avoid large groups of people. If a bear is seen in a community, residents should simply be aware of the bear’s presence and avoid any interaction with it.
DEC staff and local police officers will sometimes attempt to direct a bear toward a better location, away from developed areas, but this is not always possible. Nearly all urban bears leave as quickly and quietly as they appear, without serious conflict or need for physical removal.
Residents and visitors should take the following steps to avoid attracting and creating nuisances of bears:
NEVER FEED BEARS INTENTIONALLY – Feeding bears intentionally is illegal and a ticketable offense. Bears that obtain food from humans will continue to seek food from humans and become a nuisance.
- Remove all bird feeders;
- Keep garbage, grills, pet food, and bird seed inside a solid, secure structure (house, shed, garage, etc.);
- If grills cannot be secured, move grills away from houses and remove grease traps after each use;
- Put garbage on the curb the morning of collection, not the night before, and use bear-resistant trash containers; and
- Close garage doors and ground-floor windows/doors at night.
- Keep campsites as clean as possible;
- Clean up after all meals immediately. Keep grills, pots, pans, cooking utensils, and wash basins clean when not in use;
- Leave coolers and food inside car trunks or truck cabs;
- Store food and coolers in food lockers when available;
- NEVER keep food, coolers, or scented items in tents when camping. Store toiletries securely with coolers and food;
- Do not put grease, garbage, plastic diapers, cans, bottles, or other refuse into the fireplace; and
- Dispose of garbage in the campground’s dumpsters every evening.
In the Backcountry
- Pack a minimal amount of food. Use lightweight and dehydrated foods. Plan all meals to avoid leftovers;
- Use bear-resistant food canisters, which are required in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness of the Adirondack Park;
- Cook and eat before dark and cook away from campsites;
- Avoid spills and drippings while cooking and do not pour grease into fire pits; and
- Never leave food unattended.
If you encounter a bear
- Don’t panic. Most bears are just as afraid of people as people are of bears;
- Never approach, surround, or corner a bear;
- Back away slowly – do not run;
- Do not throw backpacks or food at bears. If bears are rewarded with food, they will continue to seek food from people; and
- If feeling threatened by a bear, raise your arms over your head to look bigger and yell loudly at the bear while slowly backing away.
More information on creating and avoiding conflicts with bears is available on DEC’s website.
Photo of black bear courtesy DEC.