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MADISON – Spring’s slow start has further limited already stretched natural food sources for black bears for this time of year prompting state wildlife officials to urge homeowners statewide to take precautions to reduce the potential for problems with bears.
“With the drawn-out winter, bears are hungry and looking for any available food sources,” said Brad Koele, wildlife damage specialist for the Department of Natural Resources. “In recent weeks bear activity has been increasing, so it is especially important to remove attractants when natural food sources are limited.”
Bears are often attracted to bird feeders, garbage cans, grills, or other common attractants found in yards, according to Koele.
“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, 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.
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 finds food such as bird feed or garbage near a 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, Koele said.
“If you encounter a bear while in the woods, stay calm and do not approach it. Give it space, walk away, and watch from a distance. Never approach a sow with cubs,” said Koele.
The department would also like to caution that it is unlawful and unethical to shoot at bears. Each year DNR 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 death for the bear,” said Koele. “There are a variety of non-lethal, humane abatement options available to resolve 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.