JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As blossoms and buds emerge each spring, so do Missouri's estimated 350 native black bears. As they leave their winter dens this time of year, finding food is their main focus. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) reminds people to "Be Bear Aware" by not feeding bears and not providing potential sources of food.
"Black bears are an exciting part of our state's natural history and people in Missouri generally have positive attitudes about our native black bears," said Jeff Beringer, a resource scientist and black-bear researcher with the Conservation Department. "This affinity for these large omnivores can lead people to want a closer look by feeding or approaching bears. That can lead to conflicts between bears and people, especially in the spring when bears emerge from hibernation and are particularly hungry, and in the fall when they are focused on fattening up for the winter."
Beringer added that feeding bears makes them comfortable around people, which can also make them dangerous.
"Keep bears wild! When bears lose their fear of people, they may defend the food sources or territory they associate with people, which can make them dangerous," he said. "When this happens, the bear has to be destroyed. A fed bear is a dead bear."
He added that a fed bear that becomes a problem in one place cannot be relocated to another.
"Once a bear associates people with food, it will go in search of other places to potentially get food from people such as homes, residential areas, farms, and campsites," Beringer explained. "Common temptations include pet food or trash left outdoors, dirty grills or smokers, birdseed or other food at wildlife feeders, food at campsites, and gardens and orchards."
MDC offers these tips for avoiding attracting black bears to possible food sources:
While close encounters are uncommon, MDC offers this advice when outdoors in black-bear country:
A native to Missouri, black bears were abundant until the late 1800s when they were nearly wiped out from unregulated killing and from habitat loss when Ozark forests were logged. MDC research shows that a small number of native black bears survived. Over time, their numbers increased and continue to do so. Results of ongoing black-bear research by Conservation Department staff and others show that the animals have been sighted in about half the counties in Missouri, primarily south of the Missouri River, with most bears located in the southern third of the state in the Missouri Ozarks.
MDC asks people to report bear sightings by calling 573-522-4115, ext. 3080.
For more information on black bears in Missouri and how to Be Bear Aware, visit the MDC website at mdc.mo.gov and search Be Bear Aware.