Stay Safe in Black Bear Country

Stay Safe in Black Bear Country

American black bears (Ursus americanus) are the most common and widely distributed bears in North America. Black bears live in a diverse array of forested habitats, from coastal rain forests to the dry woodlands to wet and swampy areas. There are just a few states where black bears are no longer in residence. It may surprise you to know that along the rivers, Black bears are even seen in Arizona.

In general, black bears are strongly associated with forest cover, but they do occasionally use relatively open country, such as clear cuts and the fringes of other open habitat. As human populations encroach on bear habitat, people and bears have greater chances of encountering each other.

Bears usually avoid people, but when they do come into close proximity of each other, the bear’s strength and surprising speed make it potentially dangerous. Outdoors, particularly in springtime when both man and bears are fishing is one time they may come into contact with each other. Most confrontations with bears are the result of a surprise encounter at close range. All bears should be given plenty of respect and room to retreat without feeling threatened.

Where Bears Can Be Found

Except for females with cubs, black bears are usually solitary animals. Depending on their food supply, they move about during the day or night. In late summer and fall, feeding keeps them active throughout the day so they can gain the weight needed for winter. When bears find a human food source, their schedule may change. If they are receiving handouts they can be most active at midday; if they are feeding at dumps or trashcans, they become active at night.

Black bears should be treated with respect and safely observed from a distance of at least 100 yards. This is especially important with females accompanied by offspring, as mother bears are very protective of their young.

Recognizing BearTracks

All black bear prints usually show five digits. The toes form a rough semicircle in front of each foot, with the middle toe being the longest. Front foot tracks have small footpads, whereas hind foot tracks characteristically show an extended footpad, resembling a human foot. The claw marks are about ½ inch in front of the toe pads, but often the claw marks do not show in a track.

To avoid encounters with black bears while hiking or camping
Keep a clean camp. Put garbage in wildlife-resistant trash containers.
Store food in double plastic bags and, when possible, place the bags in your vehicle’s trunk or in wildlife-resistant food lockers.
Double-wrapped food may also be placed in a backpack or other container and hang it from a tree branch at least 10 feet above the ground and 4 feet out from the tree trunk. Never store food in your tent.
When camping, sleep at least 100 yards from your cooking area and food storage site.
Hike in small groups and make your presence known by singing or talking.
Wear bear bells if you can.
Keep small children close and on trails.
Know emergency skills or have someone with you who does.
If you come in close contact with a black bear

Stay calm and avoid direct eye contact, which could elicit a charge.
Try to stay upwind and identify yourself as a human by standing up, talking and waving your hands above your head.
Do not approach the bear, particularly if cubs are present. Give the bear plenty of room.
If you cannot safely move away from the bear, and the animal does not flee, try to scare it away by clapping your hands or yelling.
If the bear attacks, fight back aggressively. As a last resort, should the attack continue, protect yourself by curling into a ball or lying on the ground on your stomach and playing dead.

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