JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) encourages Missourians to be “bear aware” this spring and summer. Black bears are on the move this time of year. According MDC Resource Scientist Jeff Beringer, most black bears that cause problems in Missouri are young males that are looking for new homes in spring and early summer after dispersing from their mothers’ home ranges. In their search for food, these young males may come into contact with humans and cause problems.
Mr.Beringer explained that black bears are naturally fearful of humans and
prefer to mind their own business as they forage for natural foods in
fields and forests.
“Early summer can be a lean time for bears,” he said. “They are
constantly looking for food. If they find an unsecured garbage can, a
bowl of pet food left outdoors, or even a hummingbird feeder full of
sugar water, their stomachs sometimes overcome their shyness. That can
get them into trouble.”
A FED BEAR IS A DEAD BEAR
The best way to avoid problems with bears is to never feed them.
“Bears are wonderful animals,” said Beringer, “and they generally are
secretive. But things can end badly for bears that get in the habit of
foraging for food near people. Harassment and other aversive
conditioning often convince a bear to stay away from people. Feeding
bears makes them lose their fear of people and usually results in the
bears having to be destroyed. Remember: A fed bear is a dead bear.”
Black bears in Missouri are found mostly in the southern part of the
state with scattered reports from other areas. Beringer advises people
living in southern Missouri to avoid conflicts with bears by not feeding
birds and other wildlife from spring through fall, especially in rural
areas. Bears are much less active from December through March, when
supplemental feeding is more important for birds.
“Bears may occasionally enter backyards or campsites, most always in
search of food,” Beringer said. “It’s important to keep bears wild by
making encounters with humans a negative experience, for the bear. If a
bear approaches you, act immediately to scare it away by making noise
and throwing rocks at it in order to restore its natural fear of
Beringer also recommends keeping pet food and livestock feed inside
secure outbuildings. The same is true for barbecue grills and other
items that smell like food. Trash should be put out as close to pick-up
time as possible to minimize exposure to hungry bears.
Beringer encourages campers and floaters in southern Missouri to be bear
aware by keeping their campsites clean, packing food in closed
containers and placing them in secure locations, and disposing of
To learn more about black bears, including preventing and dealing with
black bears around potential food sources, visit MDC’s website at mdc.mo.gov/node/4607.
For problems with a nuisance bear, contact the nearest MDC office or conservation agent.
BLACK BEAR RESEARCH
Bears had nearly vanished from Missouri by 1940, but began to recolonize
in southern parts of the state during the 1960s following
reintroductions in Arkansas. During the last 50 years, Missouri’s bear
population has increased -- and so has interest in the species.
Beringer and other MDC staff are working on a research project to
identify and track black bears in Missouri. Results of the research will
help determine black bear numbers, locations, habits, reproduction
rates, movement, and other information. The project includes tracking
radio-collared bears and collecting hair samples for DNA analysis.
study is being funded in part through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service’s Wildlife Restoration Program.“The information gained from this research will be crucial in designing
conservation strategies to manage black bears consistent with available
habitat and within limits of human tolerance,” Beringer explained.
For more information about the Missouri Black Bear Project visit fwrc.msstate.edu/carnivore/mo_bear/.