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MADISON – With the arrival of spring, black bears have begun to emerge from their dens in search of food. State wildlife officials are encouraging homeowners statewide to take precautions to reduce the potential for problems with hungry bear.
“More than 800 complaints about bear are called in each year,” says Brad Koele, Department of Natural Resources wildlife damage specialist.
Koele says many of these conflicts occur as a result of some type of attractant such as bird feeders, garbage cans, grills, or pet food left outside and accessible to bear. Although conflicts can occur anytime bear are active it is especially important to remove attractants during the spring when bears are emerging from dens and natural foods are limited.
“Just because you see a bear does not mean it’s a causing conflict,” Koele adds. “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.”
It is illegal to intentionally feed bears in Wisconsin, but it is also important for homeowners to make sure they are not unintentionally feeding bears by allowing a food source to be accessible near their home.
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,” Koele said. “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 or shoot at a bear with a firearm in an attempt to scare the bear away.”
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.
“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,” Koele said.
Wildlife officials say it is also unlawful and unethical to shoot at bears.
“We get reports every year from bear meat processors of legally harvested bear that have large amounts of bird shot in the meat. Sometimes it is so bad that the meat must be disposed of,” says Michael Zeckmeister, northern wildlife supervisor.
Shooting at bears with a shotgun is illegal, extremely inhumane and could result in significant injuries or even be fatal to the bear.
“There are a variety of non-lethal, humane abatement options available for resolving conflicts with bears,” Zeckmeister said.
Homeowners who are unable to resolve a conflict with a bear 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. The Department of Natural Resources partners with USDA-Wildlife Services for responding to black bear complaints.
For more information search the DNR website for “black bear management.”