Look out for bears — they’re more likely to run into people during drought, officials say

Drought causes food scarcity, so bears are forced to seek alternate food sources, including from humans, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

(Photo courtesy Utah Division of Wildlife Resources) Conflicts with black bears often increase during droughts, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources warns, as bears seek alternative food sources.

If you run into a bear while you’re out camping — or if a bear runs into you in your neighborhood — this summer, it’s probably just looking for food.

That doesn’t mean you should feed it, though. Conflicts with black bears often increase during droughts because bears’ food supply is decreased and they’re forced to look for alternative food sources — including from humans, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources warned in a news release.

“Black bears will typically do everything they can to avoid people,” Darren DeBloois, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources game mammals coordinator, said in the news release. “When a bear finds food, though, that all changes. Once it finds food, a bear will often become aggressive toward anything it perceives as threatening the area where it found the food — that includes people.”

Here are some ways to avoid encountering bears while camping:

  • Bear-proof your food and supplies. Store food, snacks and scented items like toothpaste, deodorant and sunscreen where a bear can’t get to them, like a locked car or trailer. Don’t leave such goods out on tables or in your tent, where the smell might attract a bear.

  • Keep your cooking area clean. Once you’re finished preparing and eating your food, be sure to clean your gear and stow your trash and leftovers. The DWR warns not to dump oil or grease on the ground, which could attract a bear — instead, store it in a container and take it home with you.

  • Keep your campsite clean. Adopt a pack-in, pack-out mentality: Store all of your trash in bags and make sure it’s locked up during your stay, then take everything home with you.

“If a bear visits the area after you leave and then someone comes into that area to camp, you’ve created a potentially dangerous situation,” DeBloois said in the release.

And if you live in an area where a bear might wander by — rural foothills or canyons especially — DWR shares some tips for keeping your home safe:

  • Bear-proof your outdoor garbage cans. The DWR said many bear reports it receives involves bears getting into dumpsters and trash cans in neighborhoods or near cabins. To avoid attracting a bear, store your garbage in a bear-proof container, or if you don’t have a bear-proof container, keep it inside your garage.

  • Remove or secure items that might attract bears, such as bird feeders, compost piles, pet food and water bowls, and barbecue grills.

And, in general, never feed bears. Once a bear loses its fear of people, it could pose a danger to the public and wildlife officials might have to euthanize it, the DWR warned.

If you do encounter a bear, stand your ground and don’t run away, the DWR advised. Always fight back — use bear spray or an improvised weapon like a rock, stick or even a water bottle. The DWR said people can successfully defend themselves from a bear attack, even with just their hands and feet.

For more information on bears and how to stay safe around them, visit wildlife.utah.gov or the Wild Aware Utah website.