Oregon is home to a healthy population of an estimated 25,000-30,000 black bears. During spring, Oregon’s black bears are coming out of their winter dens.

Bear damage complaints always begin to pick up this time of year when bears should be eating insects and vegetation like grass or skunk cabbage until wild berries ripen in July. But bears will take an easy meal if they can find one by targeting garbage cans, pet food left outside, compost piles with food or fruit scraps, and bird feeders (including hummingbird feeders).

A bear that feeds on human food sources becomes a human safety risk if it is aggressive towards people, attacks pets, or if it attempts to enter a structure. Another sign that a bear is becoming a human safety risk is if it is seen repeatedly during daylight hours around residences. It only takes one “reward” to create a problem bear.  Last year, 26 bears were killed in western Oregon because they were considered human safety risks or nuisances. This year there have been numerous complaints of bears getting into residential garbage, and even a couple complaints of bear paw prints on house windows.

In 2011 the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 2175 which prohibits the feeding of potentially habituated wildlife, including bears. A person is in violation of this law if they do not remove the food, garbage, or other attractant within two days of receiving a written notification by an officer.

Steps can be taken to stop bears from feeding on unnatural food sources:

  • Maintain regular garbage service and keep garbage inside a garage or shed until garbage day. Wash garbage cans to eliminate odor.
  • Store pet food dishes and feed inside.
  • Remove bird feeders or at a minimum hang bird feeders away from the side of your home or tree trunk so bears can’t reach them. Store birdseed inside and keep the feeder and area underneath clean.
  • Keep barbecue grills clean.
  • Only compost non-food items like leaves and grass in areas with bears.
  • Electric fences are a very effective bear deterrent.

“Bear problems are predictable in that they almost always involve bears eating human garbage,” says Brian Wolfer, ODFW district biologist in Springfield. “Bears will return to eating natural forage if unnatural items are not available.”

“It is easier to prevent a bear problem than to correct a problem after it begins. Neighbors should work together to make sure everyone is doing what they can to not attract bears,” he added.

For more information about living with black bears, see the ODFW website at www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/black_bears.asp

While bear sightings are not unusual, attacks on humans are rare. If you encounter a bear:

  • Give the bear a way to escape.
  • Stay calm, do not run or make sudden movements.
  • Face the bear and back away slowly.
  • Avoid direct eye contact with the bear.
  • Talk to the bear in a firm voice to let it know you are a human.

Fight back if attacked. Shout, use rocks, sticks and hands to fend off an attack.

Logo courtesy of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

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