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MADISON – As the remaining signs of winter melt away and black bears begin to emerge from their dens, homeowners statewide are encouraged to take precautions to reduce the potential for problems with these hungry bruins.
Natural food sources are limited at this time of year, and bears are often attracted to bird feeders, garbage cans, grills, or other common attractants found in yards, says Brad Koele, Department of Natural Resources wildlife damage specialist.
“Taking steps to remove any food attractants will greatly reduce the likelihood of having problems with bears,” said Koele. “Black bears normally avoid contact with people. However, when food sources are available, bears can quickly learn to associate humans with food and can become a nuisance.”
Highly habituated bears can be dangerous and may need to be euthanized.
“Preventing the problem in the first place is the best solution for both humans and bears,” said Koele.
It is illegal to intentionally feed bears in Wisconsin. It is also important for landowners to make sure they are not unintentionally feeding bears by allowing a food source to be accessible near their home. Bird feeders are often a source for a quick meal, especially in the spring, and unsecured garbage cans or dumpsters are also potential attractants.
Wildlife biologists encourage residents to follow these steps to avoid attracting bears:
• Don’t knowingly feed a bear;
• Completely remove bird feeders, even during daytime hours. Bears are active during the day and may cause problems even if the feeders are out only during that time.
• Reduce garbage odors by rinsing food cans before putting them in recycling containers or garbage cans;
• Keep meat scraps in the freezer until garbage day, and if possible, keep garbage cans in a closed building until the morning of pick-up. Commercial dumpsters should be locked;
• Keep pet food inside or inaccessible to bears even during daytime hours;
• Keep barbeque grills and picnic tables clean.
If a bear is near your home, wave your arms and make noise to scare it away. Then back away slowly or go inside and wait for the bear to leave. When scaring the bear away, make sure it has a clear escape route. Never corner a bear.
If a bear finds food such as bird feed or garbage near your home it will likely return. The visits will eventually stop when food is no longer available. Bears will periodically check sites where food was once available, so it may take several days to weeks before the bear will quit visiting a site once the food source has been removed.
If you encounter a bear while in the woods you should stay calm and not approach it. Give it space, walk away, and watch from a distance. Never approach a sow with cubs.
The Department would also like to caution that it is unlawful and unethical to shoot at bears. Each year the Department receives reports about bears that were shot with bird shot.
“Shooting bears with bird shot is illegal, extremely inhumane and could result in significant injuries or even is fatal to the bear,” said Koele. “There are a variety of non-lethal, humane abatement options available for resolving conflicts with bears.”
The Department of Natural Resources partners with USDA-Wildlife Services for responding to black bear complaints. Homeowners who are unable to resolve a conflict with bears should contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services toll-free line at 1-800-433-0663 for properties in Southern Wisconsin, and 1-800-228-1368 for properties Northern Wisconsin.