ABBA would like to thank the Black Bear Conservation Committee of Baton Rouge, Louisiana
for providing the following information:
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Bears in Your Neighborhood
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Bears and Garbage
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Management of Nuisance Bear Behavior
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Encounters with Bears
 
Living With Bears

Most conflicts between bears and humans are related to the animals' search for food. Nuisance activities are usually more common in years when there is a shortage of natural foods. An amazingly acute sense of smell enables the bear to find sources of nourishment, and unfortunately this can be beehives, garbage, or pet foods. Damage to crops such as corn, wheat, oats, watermelon, and sugarcane has also been reported. When compared to other types of agricultural losses, however, those caused by black bears are relatively small although can be locally severe. Other issues reported to wildlife agencies include bears eating corn and other grains from feeders used by hunters to attract deer, damage to apiaries, and nuisance bears foraging in garbage dumps.
Although generally shy creatures, bears are very intelligent and possess excellent learning and long term memory capabilities. Bears will continue to return to areas where they have found food in the past. Bears lose their instinctive fear of humans quite easily when food conditioned and can become nuisances as a result. Problems vary from the simple presence of a bear, perceived as dangerous, to actual property damage.

The public needs to be provided with factual information about black bears so that conflicts can be avoided or acceptably resolved. Landowners, agricultural producers and other wildlife resource users educated about bears can minimize bear-caused damage through preventative methods. Once educated about bears, most people readily accept their presence and are willing to modify certain behaviors to avoid conflict. In most conflict situations, no single control technique will solve all nuisance bear problems. However, certain measures that are initiated in a timely manner, maintained properly, and applied with an understanding of bear behavior, can greatly reduce any problems associated with bears. The best way to avoid trouble with bears is to prevent the issues from arising in the first place.

 
Hunting in Bear Country

Hunting clubs with property in occupied bear habitat should incorporate bear awareness programs into their annual list of organizational activities so that members can learn facts and dispel myths (e.g., the mistaken belief that bears and deer cannot live in the same area). Identification, behavior, and management of black bears should be discussed in formal hunter education programs.  Wildlife professionals should promote bear conservation when working with the media, hunters, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Clubs should also police their wildlife resources and report any wildlife violation that is discovered.

Baiting of deer is illegal in Alabama and supplemental feeding during the off-season should be discouraged.  This would prevent attracting bears to areas frequented by hunters who may be uninformed about bear behavior and who may kill a bear that is perceived as a problem.

Use of hunting dogs in occupied habitat should be controlled as dogs may chase bears instead of legal game in some areas. Running of dogs outside the hunting season, particularly in late spring, can adversely impact bears by contributing additional stress during a time when bears have just emerged from winter dens and are searching for foods. In addition, dogs may harm or kill cubs caught on the ground. Control of free-ranging dogs in occupied habitat could also reduce the likelihood of potentially dangerous confrontations between dog handlers and bears. In some areas, a program to control feral hogs may be warranted. Feral hogs can significantly lower the quality of habitat for bears where the 2 species overlap. In these areas, hunters should be especially careful of their targets as large hogs can appear similar to bears.

 
Bears in Your Neighborhood

If bears are in your neighborhood, you should initiate preventive measures to avoid encouraging nuisance bear behavior. Efforts should be made to secure all garbage containers or deposit all edible wastes in separate containers that are stored where bears cannot gain access. When possible, residents in bear habitat should keep their garbage inside their home or closed utility shed in double-bagged garbage bags and put garbage out the morning of pick up, not the night before, to limit the time a bear will have access to your garbage.  Bear resistant garbage cans are another alternative; however these are somewhat expensive for individuals to purchase.

Pet foods as well as bird feeders can attract bears. If pet food is allowed to remain outdoors for extended periods of time a bear will surely find it, eat it, and will come back.  In these situations, both the humans and the bear quickly lose fear of each other. Fear of humans is a bear's most important survival mechanism. Once bears lose their fear of humans there is little incentive for them to avoid circumstances that bring the two together. This could easily result in a dangerous situation, both for people and the bear. It must be remembered that these are wild animals that may react to the presence of humans in unpredictable ways.

 
Bears and Beehives

Damage to bees and hives is the most economically important agricultural problem associated with black bears in the Southeast.  A bear that encounters an unprotected commercial apiary can destroy or badly damage scores of hives in just one night. Losses to some beekeepers can be a significant financial burden, especially when several apiaries are managed within the home range of a bear that has become a habitual beehive robber. In some cases, individual beekeepers have reportedly sustained as much as $10,000 in damages. It is important for beekeepers to initiate damage prevention strategies that preclude or minimize bear-caused damage.

Some bears are especially fond of larval bees and honey and will actively seek out hives in their home range. Consequently, beehives should be located as far as possible from timber and brush providing bears with cover and travel routes. Honey crops should be harvested as soon as possible after the spring, summer and fall nectar flows to reduce the attractiveness of hives to foraging bears, and prevent the loss of the new honey crop in the event of depredation. When possible, apiaries should be moved to new locations if bear activity is detected nearby. To minimize possible damage to hives and prevent bears from establishing bad habits, apiaries in occupied habitat should be protected using electric fences, bear-resistant platforms, or, with the help of an authorized wildlife professional, aversive conditioning of bears. Electric fencing has been shown to be almost 100% effective in deterring bear damage. Fences can also be used to control ongoing damage. Compact apiaries are easier to protect with bear-resistant fencing than those scattered over a larger area.  Therefore, beekeepers should consolidate hives to form the smallest apiary that can be practically managed.

Plans for various types of bear-resistant fences and other types of damage control information can be obtained from the offices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Damage Control and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

 
Bears and Crops and Livestock

Some field crops and livestock may occasionally provide food for bears and should not be located in or close to occupied bear habitat unless the owner is willing to accept occasional losses. Crops and livestock should be inspected frequently so that any damage can be discovered quickly, and preventive control measures can be implemented. Gardens, small fields and pastures should be protected with bear-resistant fences if bear damage is anticipated. Farmers should harvest crops as quickly as possible and consider planting crops that are not attractive to bears.

There are several alternatives to control bear damage to crops and livestock. Intensive herding practices can lessen the chance that bears will prey on livestock. Carcasses of dead animals should be hauled to an approved landfill or destroyed by deep burial or incineration to prevent bears from scavenging near susceptible livestock.

Gas exploders, noise-making pyrotechnics, strobe lights, electronic sirens, guard dogs, and scarecrows my temporarily repel bears from fields or pastures; however, repetitious use may render these techniques ineffective.

 
Bears and Garbage

Garbage management is an integral part of avoiding conflicts with bears. Bears that obtain meals regularly from landfills may soon become a nuisance because they depend on man for their food and lose fear of humans. "Garbage dump" bears can begin feeding in dumpsters and residential garbage cans when landfills and dumps no longer supply a dependable source of food. These bears are more likely to be removed from the population because this undesirable behavior is very difficult to change.

Landfills located in occupied habitat should be managed to discourage bears from using them as a food source. When possible, the perimeter of landfills should be enclosed within bear-resistant fences. Additionally, landfill operators should maintain a small face of exposed garbage and completely cover it with a deep layer of dirt. This reduces odors and makes it difficult for bears to feed. Homeowners and campers in or near occupied bear habitat should avoid attracting bears by dumping wastes in closed containers located away from their homes or campsites.

Discarded food wrappers, including candy bars, soft drink cans and pastry wrappings, are attractants and should not be thrown on the ground. The best thing to do is what not to do: DON'T LITTER!

Efforts should be made to secure all garbage containers or deposit all edible wastes in separate containers that are stored where bears cannot gain access. When possible, residents in bear habitat should keep their garbage inside their home or closed utility shed in double-bagged garbage bags and put garbage out the morning of pick up, not the night before, to limit the time a bear will have access to your garbage. To further eliminate attractive odors, wash the refuse containers about once a week with a disinfectant solution. In areas where garbage pick up is early in the morning, state wildlife agencies can work with local communities and waste management companies to schedule later pick up times to allow for this preventive measure. Bear resistant garbage cans are another alternative; however, these are somewhat expensive for individuals to purchase.

 
Feeding Bears

Problems have occurred when people, fascinated by a bear near their home or workplace, have tossed food out the door so that they can watch or photograph the animal. In these situations, both the humans and the bear quickly lose fear of each other. Fear of humans is a bear's most important survival mechanism. Once bears lose their fear of humans there is little incentive for them to avoid circumstances that bring the two together. Bear encounters could easily result in a dangerous situation, both for people and the bear. It must be remembered that these are wild animals that may react to the presence of humans in unpredictable ways. Feeding bears is not recommended in any situation.

Camps are sometimes visited and damaged by bears searching for discarded food and garbage. A bear that finds food at one camp may decide to visit others and cause problems there. As bear numbers increase, it will become more important for camp owners to maintain clean, garbage-free grounds. Campsites, including buildings, should be kept as clean as possible. Specific areas should be designated for cleaning fish and game, and these areas should be cleaned thoroughly after each use. Refuse from cleaning should be buried deeply or stored in a bear-proof container and removed from the site. Keep garbage in a locked container and remove it when you leave the camp.

Interaction between humans and bears is discouraged because all wild animals have the potential to be dangerous and inflict serious injury. Bears tolerant of human activity may become aggressive, especially if a handout is expected. Feeding bears is not recommended in any situation. "Friendly" bears should not be tolerated and should be reported to an appropriate wildlife professional as soon as possible.

 
Management of Nuisance Bear Behavior

As with any wildlife population, objectives and attitudes of landowners, land managers, resource users, and the general public will determine if bears are considered an asset or a liability. Human attitudes will ultimately determine whether or not bears can survive. Public perception of the black bear will be partially dependent on immediate and effective responses by wildlife professionals to reported conflicts. Black bears may be killed by individuals who are unaware of solutions to simple problems, who feel that no effective solution for their particular conflict exists, or who think that no one cares.  Informing the public about potential conflicts and available solutions is an important strategy in the overall restoration effort.

In general, conflicts between humans and wildlife can be addressed by either managing the animals involved in the conflict, manipulating the resource being damaged, or by placing a physical or psychological barrier between the conflicting resource and wildlife species. These same principles can be applied to management of human/bear conflicts. Destruction of offending animals will only be considered if human health and safety is jeopardized and all other measures have failed. Ideal management plans should emphasize conflict prevention and, when problems arise, the implementation of practical solutions.

Trapping nuisance bears and releasing them far from their capture site is called relocation. Relocating nuisance bears can cause them to roam over large areas in search of familiar surroundings. Bears have an excellent homing instinct, and will attempt to find their way back to familiar territory. Bears have been documented traveling up to 400 miles from relocation sites. This increases their susceptibility to being killed by vehicles along roads or by humans who perceive a threat to their own safety. Because of the stress and increased human interaction, relocated bears have a reduced chance of survival. In addition, moving a problem animal from one area to another can potentially bring a nuisance to the new area. Consequently, bears involved in conflicts with humans should be left in their established territory whenever possible. Barriers preventing access by bears may totally eliminate some ongoing problems and offer the greatest immediate relief from conflicts that arise. Barriers, in most cases, are both economically and technically feasible to install and are considered a viable option for controlling many types of bear-related damage. Solar-powered electric fencing for bee yards, for example, is an extremely effective bear deterrent.

Management of the resources being damaged or threatened is also applicable to our goal of effectively managing bear/human conflicts. In some cases, conflicts may be avoided by keeping susceptible resources away from bear habitat or by removing attractants that lure bears to those resources.

 
Encounters with Bears

Black bears are not normally aggressive, but like all wild animals, they may react unpredictably. Unprovoked attacks on humans are extremely rare throughout the species' range. Most attacks have occurred when humans surprised, cornered or otherwise threatened the animals. It is often thought that a female with cubs is defensive and can be dangerously aggressive if she perceives that her young are threatened. However, female black bears with cubs observed in Alabama have not displayed this behavior, in fact have reacted in a shy and nonaggressive manner.  All encounters with black bears in Alabama should be reported to the State of Alabama Wildlife and Fisheries Division.

 
 
Alabama Black Bear Alliance © 2006