Wildlife officials: Reported bear incidents in Utah have already doubled from last year

Signs posted by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — State officials say there has been a significant spike in reports of scavenging bears near populated areas or campsites.

Employees with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources have responded to more than 25 reports of bears getting into coolers, garbage or rummaging in campsites and residential trash cans throughout Utah in the last month. There were only 11 reports of bears in neighborhoods or campsites statewide last year at this time, and most of these incidents occurred in the southern part of the state.

According to Zion National Park Spokeswoman Alyssa Baltrus, encountering a bear in the park is extremely rare and when bears enter the park they are more than likely simply passing through. These instances are ordinarily outside of the main canyon.

“Our animal that’s most likely to cause problems are our squirrels,” she explained. “They get into everything.”

Baltrus said, like with any wildlife, it’s important to remember that “they don’t know any better, but we do.” It’s a matter of putting food away properly to reduce the odor and storing it in a place where animals won’t be able to get into it.

According to the Zion National Park website, bears are important to the area due to their contributions to the food cycle and ecosystems. However, bears are wild animals and can present a nuisance or danger. 

Recent conflicts between people and bears have happened because the bears are scavenging for food that humans are eating and cooking, according to a news release from the DWR. Several reports have involved bears getting into trash cans or dumpsters in neighborhoods and at cabins, and a number of this year’s bear incidents have occurred because trash was left in a non-bear-proof dumpster at the campsite. 

A black bear with its nose buried in a food container eats trash out of a residential garbage bag, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

The DWR encourages people to store trash in a secure location or bear-proof container. Those without access to bear-safe disposal methods should make sure to store garbage cans in their garages and put them out for pickup in the morning rather than the night before. Cleaning trash cans regularly can eliminate the odors that attract bears, as well.

According to the DWR, if a bear does make its way to a residential or camping area and isn’t rewarded with food, it will likely move on.

Utah is bear country, and black bears are the state’s only native bear species. In order to prevent bears from rummaging in the area, it is important to properly secure or clean yard items that may attract them, like bird feeders, fruit trees and pet food bowls. 

According to the news release, there are several reasons for the increase in conflicts, including population and weather patterns. Compared to previous years, there is a higher overall bear population in Utah, and the population along the Wasatch Front has continued to grow and expand into wildlife habitat areas.

Last summer’s extremely dry conditions could have also forced bears to go into hibernation “a little leaner than normal,” according to DWR wildlife biologist Riley Peck. Following the dry conditions, 2019 had an extraordinarily wet and cool spring which caused hibernating bears to stay in their dens longer than usual. 

“The combination of those two things could be making the bears a little bolder in trying to acquire their needed calories,” Peck said in the news release. 

When encountering a bear, remain calm and stand your ground. Black bears are excellent climbers and can run up to 35 mph. If a black bear does attack, fight back. People have successfully defended themselves with rocks, sticks, backpacks, water bottles and even their hands and feet.

It is also best to be prepared with bear spray and knowledge of bear behavior. If a bear stands up, grunts, moans or makes other sounds, it’s not being aggressive; rather, it is expressing interest.

Those who see a bear scavenging near houses or campsites should contact the nearest DWR office

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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