Several campsites and lean-tos were temporarily closed in the High Peaks Wilderness on July 5 due to an aggressive black bear that had been roaming the area looking for human food.
A day later the state Department of Environmental Conservation captured and later killed the animal.
As DEC officials have often said to me in these situations, “A fed bear is a dead bear.”
What does that mean? It means if a bear gets food from humans too many times, it will get habituated to the food. The bear will then continue to seek out food from campers, especially when natural food sources aren’t available such as during dry years. In some cases, the bear will then get too close to people and be considered dangerous. In these situations, bears don’t win. Instead, they are killed.
Outdoor experts will often place the blame on humans for the bear getting killed.
“The bears are not the issue. We are,” said High Peaks Summit Steward Coordinator Kayla White this week. “That bear didn’t have to die. It was killed because of hikers coming to that area.”
Some years the DEC will kill a dozen or so bears because they get addicted to human food. In some cases, the bears get the food from campers. Other times, they get it from homeowners or renters. Most commonly bears get into garbage containers that aren’t secured properly and the situation is accidental. In more rare instances, people purposely feed them. Years ago, I recall a story about a man in Inlet who used to toss raw steaks into his back yard to attract the animals. He was eventually busted by the DEC.
The number of stories I’ve heard about bears getting into campsites, lean-tos and homes must number in the dozens, if not the hundreds. It happens every spring, summer and fall.
I remember one story a guide told me about camping in a lean-to on Raquette River. In that case, the large man awoke in the middle of the night to a bear standing over him sniffing around for food. It left without incident.
In another case, an 80-something-year-old woman from Inlet awoke to a bear eating out of her freezer on the back porch. The woman spent much of that night sitting at the kitchen table with a shotgun aimed at the door, as she waited to see if the bear would come back. It didn’t.
In most cases, black bears are fearful of humans and they run away. They rarely attack, although there are some documented cases of this happening in other states. I did write a story a few years back about a man who was badly mangled by a bear after it got tangled up with his dog in the southern Adirondacks. The man barely escaped and came away with very serious lacerations from the animal.
Ultimately, what does all this mean? It means bears are a part of life in the Adirondacks and you need to be mindful of them whether you are a visitor, resident or camper. Be careful next time you go camping and be respectful of them. Leaving your food unsecured could ultimately get the animal killed.
The DEC has some recommendations about how to avoid this situation. Visitors to the backcountry are encouraged to:
- 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 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.
- For more information, visit DEC webpages on black bears and reducing bear-human conflicts.
Editor’s note: This column first appeared in Mike’s weekly Backcountry Journal newsletter. Click here to subscribe.