Black Bear walking through campground

Be Bear Smart

Photo by Grumpyhighlander Adventure Photography


Black bears have extraordinary noses and are attracted near people and their homes by human foods such as trash, bird feeders, chickens, domestic fruit, pet and livestock feed, and more. Bears obtain a huge caloric boost from these foods and quickly become conditioned to receiving food rewards. In their attempts to obtain more human foods they can break into homes, vehicles, garages, or worse.

Once bears become problematic, options for wildlife officials are limited. These bears will be dealt with by wildlife officials, oftentimes lethally. The answer is keeping human foods, most notably trash and bird feeders, from bears in the first place and not allowing bears to develop bad habits due to human negligence, carelessness and improper attractant management. Living responsibly with bears requires taking proper measures to reduce both the likelihood of something unfortunate happening or contributing towards harm to people or our bear neighbors.

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With their extraordinary sense of smell, anything that seems worthy of investigation can lead bears right to your doorstep. Bringing bears into residential areas is a risk to you, your property and your neighbors and often causes the preventable deaths of bears. The most effective way to protect the welfare of both people and bears is to prevent bears from accessing human food attractants in the first place.


Trash is by far the main attractant for bears. Store trash in a bear-resistant trash container. Otherwise store in a shed or garage, but note that bears can cause extensive property damage. Put your trash out the morning of trash collection only, never the night before and never leave trash out overnight unsecured. Occasionally clean your trash container with bleach and water to reduce odors. Do not stockpile garbage and freeze particularly smelly items until the morning of trash collection. Click here to learn more about trash solutions.


Bird feeders are often a bear's first exposure to human foods. It's been said that a considerable portion of nuisance bear activity can be traced back to bird feeders. Bears quickly learn what they are and the caloric boost they provide. Worst of all, bird feeders train bears to come right up to homes.

It's recommended to remove all bird feeders for when bears are not hibernating. It's nearly impossible to feed birds without attracting bears. Bears can visit your property at any time, so bringing bird feeders in at night is only a partial solution. A seven-pound tube of black oil sunflower seed contains over 12,000 calories and a typical hummingbird feeder contains around 775 calories. Plant native flowers instead or hang flower baskets known to appeal to hummingbirds. Bird baths are a simple way to attract and enjoy birds as well.


Pick fruit before it ripens and remove all fallen fruit from the ground. If you have extra fruit or are looking for fruit to harvest, contact The Good Food Collective. To prevent tree damage get the fruit off the tree or use electric fencing. Find someone else that can use your extra fruit or get help picking fruit. It's wise to locate fruit trees away from your home. If you absolutely do not want bears in your yard it would be best to remove fruit-bearing trees and replace them with non-fruit bearing varieties that don't attract bears. Click here to learn more about electric fencing.


Compost can attract bears, so use caution and think green! Do not discard meat, fish, oil, dairy, kitchen waste, melon rinds, fruits or anything with a high degree of odor. Keep the pile aerated and occasionally treat with lime to reduce odor and hasten the composting process. Locate compost away from your home, from forest cover and natural pathways used by bears. Indoor composting works well by reducing the volume of kitchen waste. Rural residents can protect compost with electric fencing. If you have compost pick-up, only place the container out the morning of pick-up.

Bears can be attracted to gardens by tomatoes, squashes, melons, early vegetables, sweet corn, potatoes and other root vegetables and any other particularly aromatic plants and foods. Pick vegetables as they ripen. Distance your garden away from your house if possible and away from natural cover or obvious bear pathways. If you live in a rural setting consider using electric fencing. Be aware that blood meal, fish fertilizer and deer repellent can attract bears.

Pumpkins are a bear attractant and like bird feeders, bring bears right to your home. Look for and take advantage of the post-Halloween pumpkin drop offs in Durango. Feed local livestock, not bears! Click here to learn more about electric fencing.


Chickens, beehives and livestock feed are a leading cause of conflict and bear mortality. Raising chickens can be rewarding, but some expense should be considered in protecting your chickens, and bears. Electric fencing is highly recommended, as standard chicken coop designs are of insufficient strength to keep out a determined bear. Store feed in a secure location or in a bear-resistant container.

For beehives, commit from the start to using electric fencing and do it right to protect bees, honey, beehives and equipment. Try to locate beehives away from homes, natural protective cover and bear travel routes.

Electric fencing and livestock guardian dogs are effective in deterring bears from livestock, while scare devices can deter bears long enough for you to remedy the situation. Special caution should be observed during calving and lambing seasons. Locate birthing areas well away from forest cover and natural travel routes used by bears. Store all feed in a secure location or bear-resistant container. Feed only amounts animals may consume in one feeding. Remove or secure all carcasses. Click here to learn more about electric fencing.


Burn off excess food and clean grills after each use and store in a secure location. Most importantly, empty the grease trap after each use. It's a good idea to occasionally clean your grill with ammonia to reduce odors. Don't leave cooking food unattended and promptly remove or discard anything that can attract bears, including coolers, utensils, used paper plates and soda cans.


Keep dogs leashed while hiking in bear country. Don't let or leave pets outside unattended, especially in the dusk and dawn hours. If possible, feed pets indoors when bears are active. Do not leave pet food or food bowls out overnight or unattended. Feed only the amount that pets may consume in one feeding and clean up extra food. Store pet food in a safe, secured location or in a bear-resistant container. Note that a 25-pound bag of Purina Dog Chow contains over 42,000 calories.


Don't leave anything with an odor in vehicles, including trash, groceries, pet food, soda cans, livestock grain or coolers. A candy bar or empty soda can is all it takes to incur serious damage to your vehicle. Keep vehicle doors and windows closed and locked. Bears that learn to break into vehicles for food rewards will apply this to other vehicles. Once a bear begins this unwanted behavior, it is most difficult to change that behavior and often leads to more vehicle damage, insurance claims and the likely death of a bear. It is best to not allow this unwanted bear behavior to begin in the first place.


Be aware that water features attract bears. Bears are attracted to petroleum-based products including gas, paint and more. Secure as with any other attractant. Wipe down hot tub covers with ammonia on occasion, as bears can be attracted to the insulation found in hot tub covers.

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Deterrents including electric fencing, unwelcome mats, scare devices and livestock guardian dogs have proven successful in a variety of applications, while electric fencing has proven the most effective tool in keeping bears out of most anything. Passive deterrents such as electric fencing, unwelcome mats and motion-activated alarms automatically provide negative feedback when bears approach property or attractants and work full-time. Manually deployed deterrents including rubber bullets, bear spray and noisemakers typically work for the time they are being deployed.

Although bears can become accustomed to certain types of deterrents over time, their use temporarily can buy time in attractants being removed or secured. In some cases, no one deterrent such as scare devices, is 100% effective. Rather, several being used in combination, for example electric fencing and livestock guardian dogs, is recommended. Some deterrents will be ineffective while a food source remains and what is attracting a bear needs to be resolved.


Electric fencing is a relatively simple, cost-effective and long-term solution for protecting bear attractants that cannot be easily removed or otherwise contained. Temporary or permanent designs can be adapted to a variety of situations including chicken coops, beehives, fruit orchards, grain sheds, livestock enclosures, landfills, campgrounds and homes. They are relatively easy to maintain and economical to build. Solar-powered energizers have made it possible for electric fencing to be used in more remote areas where access to power may be unavailable.

Electric fencing is a passive deterrent in that it is working whether you're around or not. Modern fence energizers have been shown to be safe for people and pets and do not generate enough heat to start vegetation on fire.

Design, construction, maintenance and inspection will determine the effectiveness of an electric fence. How the fence is grounded is an important consideration, but most crucial is the joule rating of the energizer. To effectively deter bears, you will need an energizer with a joule rating of at least 1 joule and one that produces a minimum of 6,000 volts. Download a guide on electric fencing by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks for more information.


Originally developed for vacation or second homes, or areas where people are away for extended periods of time, electric unwelcome mats cause instant pain when a bear attempts to step over them. The mats do no permanent damage to humans, pets or bears. The objective is to cause enough pain to deter bears without injuring the bear. Electric unwelcome mats are highly effective in deterring bears from entering sheds, doors and windows, accessing outdoor freezers or to keep bears from entering homes. They work by delivering a short, non-lethal shock when stepped on by a bear. These are typically wire fencing panels placed on a rubber mat and charged by a fence energizer. They can be used in deterring a specific problem bear. Bear-ier Solutions in Lake Tahoe has a ton of great information on the use of electric unwelcome mats.


Acoustic and visual deterrents can simulate human activity and take advantage of a bears natural wariness of humans. Alarms, noise and flashing lights can effectively deter bears from chickens, livestock, beehives and more and can prevent property damage. Note that bears likely will habituate to scare devices over time and scare devices may not be welcomed in some urban settings. Scare devices can be most helpful for many livestock applications.

Critter Gitters are heat and motion-activated devices with high-decibel siren alarms and flashing lights. They can temporarily deter bears from most anything including chicken coops, homes, structures, food attractants, livestock, calving areas and more.

Foxlights are a visual deterrent that flashes strobe lights at random intervals to simulate human activity. They are temporary deterrents, effective for short periods of time, particularly if bears have had no prior food rewards at the site.

Outdoor radios simulate human activity with human voices and noise and can be used to temporarily deter bears in many situations. As with any scare device, bears eventually will acclimate to them, but outdoor radios can be effective for the time it takes to remove or secure an attractant.


Livestock Guardian Dogs have been used for centuries by livestock producers and their use has been growing in popularity among ranchers practicing non-lethal wildlife management and can be very effective in deterring bears. Successful use takes time and dedication to develop, starting with careful genetic selection, pup socialization and proper deployment with livestock. Differing breeds may serve specific roles and the most common breeds include Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherd, Akbash, Komondor and more.


Bear spray has proven most effective in repelling bears in a non-toxic, non-lethal manner. Bear spray works by shooting a plume of atomized capsaicin, a red pepper derivative. Bear spray causes the membranes of the eyes, nose and lungs of a bear to swell and the result is a nearly total, yet temporary, loss of sight and severe restriction of breathing. Typically, bears that are sprayed leave the area allowing you time to recede. Bear spray is certainly unpleasant, but it causes no permanent harm to bears, humans, or otherwise.

Common manufacturers are Counter Assault, UDAP and Frontiersman. Ensure that you are purchasing EPA-certified bear spray, not a personal defense product like mace, designed for use on people or dogs. Bear spray should have a minimum concentration of 0.857% capsaicin, should weigh at least 7.9 ounces, and spray should last at least 8 seconds with a range of at least 16 feet. Bear spray has a shelf life of four years after initial purchase. Be sure to check that your canister hasn't expired.

Bear spray should be carried so it's readily available, preferably in a holster, worn on a belt or on a pack (never inside a pack) and you should be well familiar with its use. Bear spray canister holders such as Scatbelts are perfect for runners and mountain bikers.


Simple recommendations for discouraging bears from lingering around is to have a pail of rocks that can be thrown, yelling and banging on pots and pans, marine air horns or a can of bear spray on a deck or in a garage. You should never put yourself in harm's way while using deterrents.

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Homeowners Associations are in the unique position of addressing human and bear issues in a variety of effective ways on their own, without having to rely on local community wildlife ordinances. A number of tools are available to them to help in reducing the number of bears utilizing their community including establishing bear ambassadors to monitor bear activity, email and phone trees to alert residents about bear activity and removing attractants, eliminating curbside trash collection in favor of centrally located bear-resistant dumpsters, bear aware team to educate residents on reducing conflict, centralized food-growing and compost areas in lieu of backyard plots and HOA bylaws to limit food attractants available to bears. As with most bylaws, success will likely be determined by the level of enforcement.

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In order to keep bears wild and everyone safe, we all must do our part to reduce the risk of something unfortunate happening. When visiting or recreating, taking some simple precautions will help in keeping you, your family and our area bears safe.


Never feed or approach wildlife. Keep dogs on a leash. Carry bear spray, have it readily-accessible and know how to use it. Hike in groups of three or more. Occasionally make noise to not startle wildlife. Watch for signs of bear activity. If bears have been active in the area, consider recreating elsewhere that day.


Keep trash in bear-resistant trash containers and close and lock lids. Keep any doors or windows accessible to bears closed and locked, including garage and vehicle doors. Never leave food, trash or any scented items in vehicles. Feed pets indoors. If where you're staying has bear-resistant trash cans or dumpsters, use them and keep them locked. Clean outdoor grills after use and clean up after eating outside. Report bear activity to the LPC Bear Hotline at 970-247-BEAR.


Store coolers out of sight in vehicles, and keep vehicle windows rolled up and doors locked. Use food storage canisters or hang food bags when backcountry camping. Never keep food or any scented items in tents. Never leave coolers or food out unattended. Keep your camp area and picnic tables clean. Do not burn or bury trash. Use bear-resistant trash cans or dumpsters and keep them locked or pack out trash. Dogs should be leashed at campsites. Immediately report any bear sightings or encounters to campground hosts or to the LPC Bear Hotline at 970-247-BEAR.