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Living with Black Bears - Minimizing Human/Black Bear Conflicts

How to peacefully coexist with black bears, if you live in bear country.


Black Bear
Don Farrall / Getty Images

Black bears are timid creatures, but they get in trouble when they go through garbage cans, or break into cars, garages, sheds and enclosed porches. Even if you don’t mind bears going through your garbage or eating from your birdfeeder, you might have neighbors who will not hesitate to call authorities and have the animal killed. But by following a few common sense guidelines, we can minimize conflicts with black bears and learn to live in harmony with these magnificent creatures.

Garbage Control

Black bears are attracted to suburban neighborhoods by food sources, and the biggest food source is garbage. Bears also learn quickly which homes have easily accessible garbage. Some people even claim that their local bears have figured out which day is garbage day, because the bears show up only on the day of their garbage pick-up.

  • Keep garbage inside the house until the morning of your garbage pick-up. Putting garbage out the night before gives the bears more opportunity to feed from your garbage cans.
  • Do not store garbage in a garage, shed, or enclosed porch. These structures are easily broken into, and do little to contain odors that lure bears.
  • Invest in a bear-resistant garbage can. Several are available on the market, and some manufacturers even recommend keeping your garbage cans outside, chained to a tree, so that the bears will attempt to open them, and learn that they cannot access the garbage inside.

Other Attractants

Garbage is not the only food source that attracts bears, and it’s important to make sure your entire property is free of bear attractants.

  • Do not store bird seed, pet food, or any type of food or garbage in a car, shed, garage or enclosed porch.
  • Clean barbecue grills thoroughly after each use, or the odors will attract black bears.
  • Do not use bird feeders during the spring or the fall. Bears are most hungry when emerging from their dens in the spring and when fattening themselves up in the fall. In the summer, if your bird feeders appear to be attracting bears, empty them and do not use them again until winter. Although some people will bring in their bird feeders at night, hang them from a rope suspended between two trees, or mount them on aluminum poles, the fallen seed on the ground as well as the smell of the bird seed will continue to attract bears.
  • If you have fruit trees, beehives, or outdoor animals, have electric fencing installed.
  • When camping, use bear-proof storage lockers for your food and garbage, or use portable bear-proof containers and bear-proof garbage cans.


Bears are omnivorous, and having chickens, rabbits, sheep or other small animals outdoors is dangerous for your animals as well as the bears. Although it’s unusual for a bear to attack a cat or dog, even in self-defense, it can happen. To avoid conflicts, keep your animals indoors, in a sturdy structure, whenever possible. If you must keep animals outdoors or in a barn where the door is easily opened, invest in electric fencing.

What do I do if I see a Black Bear?

  • If you are on your own property, try to frighten the bear away. This can usually be done by banging pot lids together, using an airhorn, spraying the animal with a hose or Supersoaker water gun, throwing rocks, or repeatedly opening and closing an umbrella. If you have nothing readily available, wave your hands in the air and yell loudly.
  • If the bear is on your property, do not sit by and quietly watch the bear or take photos. Chances are, the bear is aware of your presence. By allowing the bear to remain on your property undisturbed, you are telling the bear that he is welcome and he will learn to come back to your property. This creates a situation where your neighbors might become alarmed and demand that the bear be killed.
  • If you are in the woods, back away from the bear slowly, while talking to the bear in a calm, low voice.
  • If you are hiking or camping in an area where pepper spray is legal, consider carrying a can of pepper spray to ward off a persistent black bear.
  • Do not feed bears. See below.

Don’t Feed the Bears

The old adage is true: A fed bear is a dead bear. Feeding bears, whether in the woods or on your own property, is dangerous because the bears will expect food from you. Even though you may enjoy feeding the bears, your neighbors may become alarmed and demand that authorities kill the bear. Also, a bear may try to take your backpack or break into your home or tent if they have learned that you are a source of food.

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