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Kammermeyer: Backyard bears are bad news

POSTED: July 28, 2008 5:00 a.m.
For The Times/

Bears are not aggressive, nor are they meant to be approached.

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Black Bears have certainly been in the news again lately.

The latest report was a bear attacking a woman walking her dogs in California this week. Very rare, but strange things do happen there.

Have you seen any bears in your neighborhood? If your answer is no, then that’s good. Hall County has very few bears and those that are seen here are “just passing through,” but they are quite common in the counties just to our north. Wild bears are shy and secretive and even high-density bear populations rarely exceed about one bear per square mile (640 acres).

If your answer is yes, then you may already have potential for bear problems.

Highly visible bears, especially those seen in daylight hours, are a sign of the bears losing their natural fear of people, usually because of food handouts. For your own safety and that of your family and neighbors, don’t feed bears. Feeding bears is not healthy for you or the bear. Nuisance bears have been known to destroy trash cans, bird feeders, corn fields and bee hives. In the past, some extremely bold bears, emboldened after years of handouts, have even entered outbuildings or houses through screen doors and windows. Obviously, this is a serious situation with potential for serious surprise encounters for people and bears.

The best solution to any bear problems is prevention. If the bear never gets a human handout, chances are good that both parties will live happily ever after. To ensure your safety and that of the bear, please follow these simple guidelines in bear country:

Never feed bears even unintentionally. Bears can easily open refrigerators and coolers, don’t throw table scrapes out in your yard. This will also prevent encounters with possible rabies carriers including raccoons, foxes, skunks and coyotes.

If you feed the birds, hang bird feeders suspended on wire at least eight feet high. Consider switching away from sunflower seed. Don’t throw seed on the ground or on your deck. Better yet, stop feeding altogether in spring and summer, birds don’t need feed in these abundant seasons.

Secure your garbage cans with a latch or lock and store them inside a locked building. Remove your trash at frequent intervals – every day before dusk if possible. Do not leave dog or cat food outside overnight. Feed your animals inside or remove leftovers as soon as your pet finishes eating. Do not approach a bear or attempt to block his escape route. Bears are extremely shy and will run from people if given the opportunity, but they can’t see very well and might accidentally run toward people when trying to escape. Yell and wave your arms.

The solution most people come up with to solve a nuisance bear problem is to get DNR to trap and move the animal. First, this is not as easy as it sounds, and secondly, it is not a good solution for the bear.
The bear may be moved 50 or more miles and dumped out in a remote area that he has never seen before. His chances of getting into trouble are now better than ever. He may move to the nearest house or state park and look for an easy handout or unprotected trash cans. Thus, they have successfully transferred a nuisance problem from one place to another. Being in unfamiliar territory, the bear is more likely to get killed by cars and is also subject to being chased out again by territorial adult male bears. Even in the most remote areas of Georgia, there are no longer any places where bears can be moved into unoccupied bear habitat, or far enough from the nearest house.

If you are already faced with a nuisance bear problem, call the Wildlife Resources Division in Gainesville at 770-535-5700. They have more good advice and literature, plus repellents and scare pistols.

Remember that the best long-term solution is to remove the easy food source. There is plenty of food for bears in their natural habitat and they can find it easily. Bears and people can coexist peacefully if both follow the rules. The golden rule is, don’t feed bears.

Are you afraid of bears? A healthy fear of bears is OK, but some folks get really carried away. If you are afraid to walk, jog, take out your garbage or walk your dog because of bears, then maybe you need to learn more about black bears.

You need to know that you have less chance of being injured by a bear than by bees, lightning, golf, tennis, fire ants, ticks, dogs, snakes, home accidents or auto accidents. The child killed by the bear near the Smokies in 2006 was only the second black bear-caused fatality on national parks in U.S. history. Most bear experts think the whole incident was a real fluke. We may never know all the circumstances behind that incident. No one in North Georgia has ever been seriously injured by a bear.
Residents living in bear country need to learn about bears, not just fear them. Everyone needs to work hard to keep the bears “wild”. This is done by NOT providing them free meals in your yard or neighborhood. Treat bears with respect, and don’t tolerate the feeding of bears in your neighborhood. When bears utilize bird feeders, garbage, or pet food, a conflict is instantly created between the homeowner and the bear. These “adversely trained” bears mean an eventual death sentence for the bear and a real pest for the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, if you should have a surprise bear encounter, do not panic and do not run. Back slowly away and make lots of noise. However, if the bear approaches you, stand your ground. Wave your arms above your head and yell. The bear will go away. Some female bears with cubs are just like human mothers in that they will attempt to protect their cubs. Do not try to get close to the cubs. Sow bears pushed to the limit are prone to pop their jaws, raise the hair on their neck and “woof”. Some might even bluff charge, stopping 10 feet short of the intruder. They have no interest in eating anyone, just putting some distance between the intruder and their cubs. Bears are not aggressive, evil creatures nor are the cute cuddly teddy bears either. They are wildlife, part of the forest and part of our lives. Living in or near bear country means learning to live with bears.

Kent Kammermeyer is a certified wildlife biologist. His column appears monthly.



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