The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) reminds campers, anglers and hikers enjoying the outdoors to take precautions to limit black bear encounters. A key element to safe camping and recreating in bear country is to limit food odors that attract bears.

“Bears are constantly in search of easily obtainable food sources,” said Marc Kenyon, DFG statewide bear program coordinator. “A bear’s fate is almost always sealed once it associates human activity with potential food. It’s always unfortunate when a bear has to be killed because people either haven’t learned how to appropriately store food and trash, or simply don’t care.”

California’s growing black bear population is now estimated at more than 40,000. Black bears are located in most of the state where suitable habitat exists and bear/human encounters are not isolated to wilderness settings. For example, last year black bears stirred up trouble in one of California’s premier tourist destinations, as DFG staff logged more than 5,200 hours handling black bear nuisance issues in the Lake Tahoe region alone.

DFG wardens and biologists also responded to numerous wildlife feeding issues across the state, and bears obtaining human food is cited in the majority of public safety incidents involving bears. Access to human food or garbage, whether it is overflowing from a campground or residential dumpster or in the form of snacks in a tent, is the primary culprit in attracting bears. When wild animals are allowed to feed on human food and garbage, they lose their natural ways – often resulting in death for the animal.

Feeding wildlife or allowing wildlife access to human food provides false food sources, habituates animals to humans and can change animal behavior from foraging for food in the wild to relying on human food sources in or near urban areas, which can lead to bears breaking into cars or houses to seek out food.

DFG’s Keep Me Wild campaign was developed in part to address the increasing number of conflicts between black bears and people. The campaign provides important tips for living and recreating safely in bear habitat, and advice on what to do if you encounter one of these wild animals. Please visit www.dfg.ca.gov/keepmewild/bear.html for more information.

Bear Country Precautions:

  • Keep a close watch on children and teach them what to do if they encounter a bear.
  • While hiking, make noise to avoid a surprise encounter with a bear.
  • Never keep food in your tent.
  • Store food and toiletries in bear-proof containers or in an airtight container in the trunk of your vehicle.
  • Keep a clean camp by cleaning up and storing food and garbage immediately after meals.
  • Use bear-proof garbage cans whenever possible or store your garbage in a secure location with your food.
  • Don’t bury or burn excess food; bears will still be attracted to the residual smell.
  • Garbage should be packed out of camp if no trash receptacles are available.
  • Never approach a bear or pick up a bear cub.
  • Do not attempt to attract a bear to your location; observe the animal and take pictures from afar.
  • If you encounter a bear, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to appear as large as possible.
  • If attacked, fight back.
  • If a bear harms a person in any way, immediately call 911.

Read DesertUSA’s page about black bears here.

Source: California Dept. of Fish and Game

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