How to coexist in bear habitat

Mama bear dines on stone fruit on the tree while her cubs enjoy the bounty on the ground. (Tom Sparks photo, 2015)

To be a bear-smart community, it’s all about eliminating the temptations for bears. Some are more obvious than others.

For instance, if there are fruit trees or berry bushes in the garden, bears will want to help themselves to the bounty.

Caged (or free-range) birds such as chickens will also be an attractant. They are an easy meal.

Beehives are hard for a bear to pass by. Even with the harshest of deterrents, a bear may not be able to resist the temptation of honey.

In the wild, bears eat mostly plant matter. But they will eat insects, fish, and rodents if the opportunity arises. Bears don’t hunt the way a mountain lion or coyote does, so they won’t eat your dogs and cats. They are more opportunistic.

If there are meat scraps in an unprotected garbage can, a barbecue grill with the scent of salmon, or even steaks in a freezer in the garage, the bear is going to follow the scent.

A bird feeder full of nuts and seeds is also an attractant to a bear looking for calories. A hummingbird feeder with sugar water could also prove too good  of a treat to pass up.

Allowing bears to have access to garbage cans cause them great harm besides the obvious habit of wanting more garbage. They can receive cuts in their mouths and on their tongues from broken glass or canned-food lids, and a container can get stuck on their tongues, in their mouths, or on their heads. Since garbage cans are usually close to roadways, garbage-habituated bears are often killed by vehicles.

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To truly deter bears from eating the produce in your garden, attacking a defenseless flock of cooped-up chickens, or getting into the backyard beehives, electricity seems to be the best method. A one-time investment of money and time, an electric fence with a couple joules of juice could teach a bear (and raccoons and deer) with just one zap on the nose that sustenance would be more easily obtained elsewhere.

Other tips to reduce a human-bear interaction:

Harvest fruit off trees as soon as it is ripe.

Use a bear-proof garbage container. 

Don’t leave groceries, trash, or animal feed in a car.

Clean barbecue grills after use.

Don’t put trash out or unlock the bearproof latches the night before trash-collection day; wait until as close to collection time as possible.

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