Protect Your Food and Property From Black Bears

Protect Your Food and Property From Black Bears

The best way to prevent food pilfering in bear country is to avoid the bears. That means by-passing campsites with bear tracks, fecal droppings, and scattered garbage. Bears are regular visitors there. But if you must camp at such sites, keep a clean camp. The less food odor in your camp the less chance the bears will linger when they make their rounds. Wash dishes immediately and dump the water away from the camp. Completely burn any edible garbage, including grease, rather than burying it or throwing it in a latrine.

Most black bears will not enter a tent with people in it, but it is still a good idea to keep food and food odors out of tents and sleeping bags. To be on the safe side, wash food from your face and hands before going to bed and hang clothing beyond reach of bears if it has food or cooking grease on it. Perfume may mask human odor, preventing bears from knowing a person is in the tent.

Bearproof food lockers and portable bearproof containers provide the best protection for your food but are not yet available everywhere. The next best thing is to store food in the trunk of your automobile or in sealed plastic bags suspended from a line between two trees.

How to hang your food.Lines or horizontal poles 20 feet above the ground have been installed at some bear-prone campsites. Sling the food bags over the line or pole so they hang 5 feet below it, at least 10 feet from the nearest tree trunk, and at least 12 feet above the ground. Bears have been known to leap from tree trunks to snatch food bags, and large black bears can reach up nearly 9 feet without jumping. Slinging the bag over a branch rather than a line or pole is even less likely to stop a bear; bears can break small branches and climb out on large ones. If a branch must be used, sling the bag far out on the tip of a branch larger than 4 inches in base diameter. Bears sometimes chew through ropes to get hanging food bags, so it is best to counterbalance the bag with a second one to avoid tying the rope where a bear can bite it. To retrieve counterbalanced bags, use a long stick to push one bag up so the other will descend to within reach.

Where bears already know about food being hung, hanging it might be only a delaying tactic to give you time to personally protect it. Pans hung on the food bag so they will rattle if a bear shakes it can alert you. Nonburnable garbage should also be hung and should be packed out when you leave.

Bears learn that coolers, backpacks, food bags, and other containers might contain food. Keeping empty containers out of sight (in a car trunk or away from camp) or leaving them open so bears can easily determine they are empty will reduce property damage. If the containers smell of food, hang them with the plastic food bags to prevent bears from carrying them off. Food odors in empty containers are minimized if the food was packed in plastic bags that can be taken out of the containers and hung. When leaving camp, tie tent flaps open so bears can easily check inside.

A black bear in camp requires caution but is not cause for great alarm. Most are timid enough to be scared away by yelling, waving, and banging pans. But a few are too accustomed to people to be bothered. Many people have lost their food and vacation by being timid. Campers experienced with black bears simply chase them away before the bears settle in to eating a week's supply of vacation food. They make sure the bear has a clear escape route and then yell, wave, and rush to no nearer than 15 feet of the bear. This is especially effective when several people do it together. If alone, a person might create the illusion of numbers by throwing sticks through the underbrush. Don't feed the bears or try to pet them. Touching a wild bear can elicit a nip or cuff.

A recent study by the National Park Service showed that bears sometimes are harder to chase after they have begun eating. Some bears in that study gave low intensity threats when people slowly approached closer than 15 feet, but all bears that were chased retreated. No visitors were attacked. People are often more timid at night, but bears retreat at night as well as by day. Capsaicin spray repellent usually persuades black bears to leave when it is sprayed into their eyes. Capsaicin, the active ingredient of cayenne peppers, has long been used by mailmen as a dog repellent. In more than 200 trials, no bear gave any sign of anger after being sprayed, sometimes repeatedly. Most immediately turned and ran, stopping eventually to rub their eyes. The repellent irritates the eyes for several minutes but causes no injury.

This information courtesy of North Central Research Station, USDA Forest Service.

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