Bear Safety Tips

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Tips from the DWR to keep you safe in black bear country

Keeping your campsite clean and not leaving food out are key to staying safe in black bear country.People are seeing black bears as they camp and hike in Utah’s backcountry. Justin Dolling, game mammals coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says the DWR has responded to about 12 black bear incidents, most of them sightings, in various parts of Utah this summer. Spotted by campers and hikers, those 12 bears represent a small fraction of the 3,000 to 4,000 bears that biologists estimate live in the state.

“As far as bear sightings go, this is a pretty typical year,” Dolling says.

He says two things happen in the summer that tend to increase the number of bear sightings reported to the DWR.

“The hot weather draws people into the backcountry, so there are more ‘eyes’ out there to see bears,” he says. “At the same time, mother bears are kicking out the cubs they gave birth to a year ago. They kick the cubs out so the females can prepare for another breeding season.”

Dolling says these young bears tend to wander as they look for food and explore their new world. “If you see a bear in the summer, it’s probably a younger bear,” he says.

Even though these bears are young, they’re just as wild and dangerous as older bears. “You don’t need to be scared of bears, but you do need to respect them,” Dolling says.

Dolling says you can do several simple things to lessen the chance that a black bear visits your campsite this summer:

  • Don’t leave food and scented items, such as deodorants and tooth paste, out where a bear can get them.
  • Keep your campsite and cabin area clean. Don’t toss food scraps and other trash around.
  • Don’t keep any food in the same area where you’re sleeping.
  • If an item has a strong smell to it, consider leaving it at home. 
  • Never feed a bear.

“If you follow these rules, you’ll not only help yourself, you’ll help other people too,” he says.

“A bear may not visit your campsite while you’re there, but the food you leave out and the litter you leave behind could bring a bear to that same area after you leave. And that could create a serious problem for people who camp in the area after you.”

Keeping your camp clean

Dolling says strong smells—and the food that’s usually associated with those smells—are what attract bears to people. You can do a few simple things, though, to cut those smells down. Cutting the smells down will greatly reduce the chance that a bear visits your camp or cabin:

  • Don’t leave food out. Instead, lock your food and coolers inside your vehicle. You can also suspend them at least 12 feet high between two trees, so bears can’t reach them.
    You can also store your food in a bear-proof container. But please remember that most containers, including plastic food coolers, are NOT bear proof. You can find containers that are bear proof at various sporting goods stores and outdoors stores.
  • Don’t scatter garbage, food scraps and fat drippings around your campsite. And don’t leave them in your fire pit, either. Instead, place them in an airtight container, lock them securely in the trunk of your car or inside your trailer and take them home with you. If bear-proof garbage cans are available in your campground, you can also leave them in the cans.
  • After you’re done cooking and eating clean your cooking grills immediately. And clean anything you used to prepare, eat or clean up food.
  • Don’t keep any food in the area where you’re sleeping.
  • Cook away from your tent or sleeping area. And don’t sleep in the clothes you wore while cooking or the clothes you wore while cleaning fish. Leave those clothes at your cooking area, along with utensils, rags and anything else used to prepare, cook, eat or clean up food. Or, better yet, seal the items inside a vehicle or in a bear-proof container.
    If you’re camping in the backcountry, hang your food and the clothes you used while cooking between two trees and at least 12 feet off the ground.
  • Don’t bring items with you that have a strong odor. Bears have very sensitive noses. Anything that has a strong smell to it, including deodorant, perfume and certain soaps, could draw a bear to your campsite.
  • Never feed a bear.

Bear safety tips

More tips on how to stay safe in bear country, including what to do if you encounter a bear while hiking, are available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/bearsafety.