Safety tips for camping in black bear country

Photo location unspecified, Jan. 27, 2017 | Photo courtesy of Lynn Chamberlain, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – A bear usually isn’t on the list of invited dinner guests during a campout, but they can nonetheless make an appearance if campers aren’t careful.

File: Black Bear, location unspecified, May 17, 2009 | Photo courtesy of Ted Hallows, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

“Even though they’re incredibly strong and surprisingly fast … black bears will typically do everything they can to avoid people,” Darren DeBloois, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources mammals coordinator, said on the DWR bear safety tips webpage.

However, that tendency to avoid humans goes out the window when the bear catches the scent of food and zeroes in on it.

“Once it finds food, a bear will often become aggressive towards anything it perceives as a threat to the area where it found the food,” DeBloois said. “That includes people.”

In order to avoid this, there are two simple things campers can do in order to avoid a negative encounter with a bear:

  • Keep the area clean. Don’t toss food scraps and trash around. Instead, put it in trash bags, and store it in a place where a bear can’t get to it. When it’s time to go home, take your trash home with you.
  • Store your food in an area where a bear can’t get to it.

Black bears have an amazing sense of smell, and they have no problem eating the same type of food people eat – or even use on their body, for that matter. Besides food, DeBloois suggests storing items that are scented, such as deodorants and toothpaste, in an area where a bear can’t get to them.

“Storing them in a locked trailer, or locking them in the trunk of your car, are good choices,” DeBloois said. “Storing food and scented items in these areas will reduce the chance that a bear smells them. And, if a bear does makes its way to the area where you’re staying, if it isn’t rewarded with food, it will likely move on.”

In a 2012 video produced by the DWR, Lynn Chamberlain, then conservation outreach manager for the DWR’s Southern Region, said that the odor of food can draw wildlife from great distances.

“If you think that lunch smells good, so will a bear,” Chamberlain said.

Besides storage, when it comes to food preparation, DaBloois adds that you shouldn’t dump oil or grease from pots or pans onto the ground. Put the oil or grease in a container and take it home. Also keep grills, pots, pans and utensils clean.

Keeping the general campsite area clean for future use is also encouraged, as a bear can associate the site as a potential source of food in the future if it manages to find some beforehand.

“If a bear visits the area after you leave, and then someone comes into that area to camp, you’ve created a potentially dangerous situation,” DaBloois said.

More tips for camping and hiking safety in black bear country can be found here.

The following general black bear facts and more can be found on

File: Black bear in Utah, location and date not specified | Photo by Lynn Chamberlain, courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

What does a black bear look like?

  • Despite their name, black bears can be anywhere from black to red to blond.
  • Black bears are the only bears that live in Utah; but outside of Utah, one way to tell the difference between a black and brown bear is that a black bear’s snout is straight and usually lighter in color than the rest of their body. They also have large pointed ears and lack a shoulder hump.

How big are they?

  • Black bears are typically 4 1/2 to 6 feet long and are 3 feet at shoulder height.
  • Females weigh between 100-500 pounds. Males weigh between 100-900 pounds.

Where do they live?

  • Black bears prefer to live in forested areas that have good places to make dens.
  • They are sometimes seen near the edges of suburban areas.

What do they eat?

  • Black bears are omnivores. They eat nuts, roots, berries, insects, mice, fish and other small mammals.
  • They’ll also eat your food if you forget to pack it up at the campsite.

What eats them?

  • Adult male black bears and grizzly bears will prey on black bear cubs.


Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.


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