Black bears are on the move in spring and summer so avoid feeding them and other activities that can lead to problems. (Photo courtesy of MDC)
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) encourages Missourians to be “bear aware” this spring and summer. Black bears are on the move this time of year.
According MDC Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer, most black bears that cause problems in Missouri are young males that are looking for new homes in spring and early summer after dispersing from their mothers’ home ranges. In their search for food, these young males may come into contact with humans and cause problems.
Beringer explained that black bears are naturally fearful of humans and prefer to mind their own business as they forage for natural foods in fields and forests.
“Early summer can be a lean time for bears,” he said. “They are constantly looking for food. If they find an unsecured garbage can, a bowl of pet food left outdoors, or even a hummingbird feeder full of sugar water, their stomachs sometimes overcome their shyness. That can get them into trouble.”
A FED BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR
The best way to avoid problems with bears is to never feed them.
“Bears are wonderful animals,” said Beringer, “and they generally are secretive. But things can end badly for bears that get in the habit of foraging for food near people. Harassment and other aversive conditioning often convince a bear to stay away from people. Feeding bears makes them lose their fear of people and usually results in the bears having to be destroyed. Remember: A fed bear is a dead bear.”
Black bears in Missouri are found mostly in the southern part of the state with scattered reports from other areas. Beringer advises people living in southern Missouri to avoid conflicts with bears by not feeding birds and other wildlife from spring through fall, especially in rural areas. Bears are much less active from December through March, when supplemental feeding is more important for birds.
“Bears may occasionally enter backyards or campsites, most always in search of food,” Beringer said. “It’s important to keep bears wild by making encounters with humans a negative experience, for the bear. If a bear approaches you, act immediately to scare it away by making noise and throwing rocks at it in order to restore its natural fear of people.”
Beringer also recommends keeping pet food and livestock feed inside secure outbuildings. The same is true for barbecue grills and other items that smell like food. Trash should be put out as close to pick-up time as possible to minimize exposure to hungry bears.
Beringer encourages campers and floaters in southern Missouri to be bear aware by keeping their campsites clean, packing food in closed containers and placing them in secure locations, and disposing of garbage immediately.
To learn more about black bears, including preventing and dealing with black bears around potential food sources, visit MDC’s website at mdc.mo.gov/node/4607.
For problems with a nuisance bear, contact the nearest MDC office or conservation agent.
BLACK BEAR RESEARCH
Bears had nearly vanished from Missouri by 1940, but began to recolonize in southern parts of the state during the 1960s following reintroductions in Arkansas. During the last 50 years, Missouri’s bear population has increased -- and so has interest in the species.
'Beringer and other MDC staff are working on a research project to identify and track black bears in Missouri. Results of the research will help determine black bear numbers, locations, habits, reproduction rates, movement, and other information. The project includes tracking radio-collared bears and collecting hair samples for DNA analysis. The study is being funded in part through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Restoration Program.
“The information gained from this research will be crucial in designing conservation strategies to manage black bears consistent with available habitat and within limits of human tolerance,” Beringer explained.