SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's current drought conditions may lead to more aggressive bears this year, meaning those enjoying the wilderness should practice extra caution, wildlife experts say.
Because of low snow conditions and early warmer weather, black bears came out of hibernation earlier than usual in 2021, according to the Division of Wildlife Resources.
A black bear's diet is mostly made up of plants and root-like vegetation, food that would be impacted by the drought. Without 90 percent of their diet, bears may look for alternate food sources, which could lead them into areas heavily-populated with people.
While bears mostly choose to avoid people, that could change this year if food becomes scarce.
“This lower food supply could lead to more bear conflicts this summer as bears look more broadly for food,” said Darren DeBloois, DWR game mammals coordinator. “We are already getting reports in some areas of the state where bears are getting into people’s garbage scavenging for food. Bears could be more aggressive this year than normal as they try to obtain food, so we really want people to be aware and do all they can to eliminate food sources and not draw a bear to their area.”
The DWR suggest people follow these tips when outdoors in Utah:
Bear-proof your food and supplies - Store your food, snacks and scented items (such as deodorant and toothpaste) in an area where a bear can’t get to them. Do not leave them out on tables or keep them in your tent. Storing them in a locked trailer or locking them in the trunk of your car are both good options. Storing food and scented items in these areas will reduce the chance that a bear smells them. And, if a bear does make its way to the area where you’re staying, if it isn’t rewarded with food, it will likely move on.
Keep your cooking area clean - After you’ve finished eating, thoroughly clean utensils and anything else that was used to prepare or eat the food. Don’t dump oil or grease from pots or pans onto the ground. Instead, put the oil or grease in a container, and take it home with you. By keeping your campsite or cabin area clean, you reduce the chance that a bear will smell food and trash, and be lured to your camp.
Keep your campsite clean - Don’t leave food scraps and other trash scattered around your campsite or cabin area. Instead, put it in trash bags, and take it home with you. Make sure to wipe down picnic tables and keep the area free of food and other debris. Always keep your campsite or cabin area clean because a dirty campsite can attract bears long after you’ve left.
Never feed a bear - This may seem like common sense, but it’s worth noting. Although bear cubs may seem cute, you should absolutely never feed one — or an adult bear for that matter. They are wild animals and natural predators.
Once a bear loses its fear of people, wildlife biologists and conservation officers are left with something they dread: having to euthanize an animal to keep the public safe. By not providing a bear with food, you can help keep it safe too.
“We got into the wildlife profession because we love wildlife,” DeBloois says. “We enjoy managing and protecting animals so Utahns can get outdoors and enjoy them. Having to euthanize an animal — because someone didn’t do something as simple as keeping their campsite clean and storing food in a secure area — is tough. Please don’t put us in that situation.”
Bear-proof your outdoor garbage cans - Many bear reports that the DWR receives involve bears getting into trash cans or dumpsters in neighborhoods and at cabins. Make sure to store your trash in a secure location or bear-proof container. If you don’t have access to a bear-safe garbage can or dumpster, make sure to store your garbage can in your garage and put it out for pick up in the morning, rather than the night before. Also, make sure to clean your trash container regularly to eliminate some of the odors that attract bears.
If anyone encounters a bear, they should stand their ground and don't run away or climb a tree. If a bear should attack, the DWR advises people to fight back and "never give up!"
CLICK HERE for more information about staying safe around bears.