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Extension: Avoiding negative human interactions with bears
bear
Photo courtesy of the UGA Extension Forsyth.

Black bears are Georgia’s only bear species.  Adults can be up to 6 feet in length and 3 foot high at the shoulder.  Males can weigh over 500 pounds and may breed at 1.5 years of age.  Females can weight up to 300 pounds bud do not have cubs until they are 3.5-4.5 years old.  

Bears are omnivores meaning they eat whatever food is available.  They do not have the best eyesight, but they can smell hey have an excellent sense of smell and are naturally attracted to food smells like cooking and garbage. Bears are normally crepuscular. That means they are most active in early morning and in the late evening hours.  

The primary rule for coexisting with bears is to keep bears wild and untamed.   Problems occur when bears begin associating people with food. Homeowners sometimes think it would be fun to put out food items to allow longer viewing of a bear that visits occasionally. Bears will greedily gobble down the food offered, but then they want more and now they know where to find a quick snack. In search for food, they will destroy bird feeders, turn over trash cans, and scatter garbage. Compost piles, gardens, beehives, and cornfields also attract bears. Non-natural foods are often easier to get, and over time, the more a bear is “rewarded” for coming around, it will begin to lose its natural fear of humans.

When good bears go bad the Department of Natural Resources is usually called into action. Control methods today usually focus on “hazing” techniques.  The hazing process intends to make the bear associate humans with unpleasant experiences.  Bears that do not get the message and return to become a nuisance and a potential danger around homes and campgrounds eventually must be destroyed.  

Removing attractants is critical in resolving conflicts between people and bears. It may take several days for the bear to learn that it will no longer find a free meal. Usually, the bear will move on when the food source is gone. Bring any birdfeeders inside at night. Garbage cans need to be “bear proof” and the trash removed regularly. Do not leave pet food or other food sources where the bears have access. When attractants cannot be removed, the installation of an electric fence may help alleviate bear problems (bee-yards, gardens, chicken pens). 

If you encounter cubs on a trail or passing by in your neighborhood, please leave them alone to pass by on their own. Chances are that the mother is lurking nearby and will not appreciate you engaging her cubs.

Observing a bear from a safe distance can be a neat and enjoyable experience but encouraging dangerous behavior by feeding bears puts them and you at risk for a not so happy ending. Do not let Yogi spoil your picnic.

Wild animals require three basic habitat components—food, water, and shelter.   Food sources might include insects, plants, seeds, or even other animals.  Water sources may be as small as drops of dew on grass or as large as a lake or river.  Wildlife needs cover or shelter for many life functions including nesting, escaping from predators, seeking shelter from the elements.  Taking away one of these elements will help in controlling wildlife.

Please visit our website www.ugaextension.org/forsyth or you can give us a call 770-887-2418, for more information. We also can also be reached via email at forsyth.extension@uga.edu