By Mike Demick, IDFG
IDAHO FOREST CAMPGROUNDS — With autumn temperatures dropping, and wildlife putting on the feed bag as they prepare for a long Idaho winter, natural food sources are becoming harder to find.
Wild animals are opportunists, bears especially, and in many places around the state, potential for human-bear interactions is increasing.
Often wandering great distances while searching for food and human related meals, bears find campground dining, and even garbage entrees, appealing.
As thousands of campers, hunters and anglers venture into the woods, Idaho Fish and Game is encouraging people to be careful with their refuse. The same cautions apply to homeowners in bear country.
“It is important for campers and homeowners to be proactive so they don’t attract bears,” Gregg Losinski, Fish and Game conservation educator, said. “Don’t wait until it’s a problem, because once bears become accustomed to an easy food source — they will return and conflicts will arise”
Campers can help avoid most confrontations with bears by following several basic safety practices.
- Keep a clean camp. Pick up garbage and store it in a closed vehicle or in a plastic bag tied high in a tree. Store all food enclosed in a bear-resistant container, camper or vehicle.
- Never keep food in your tent. Some national forests in Idaho even have specific food storage regulations, so check before heading out.
- Do not bury food scraps or pour cooking grease on the ground or in the fire pit.
- Stow barbecue grills and other cooking gear inside your vehicle. Bears have a tremendous sense of smell and they will come looking for an easy meal.
- If you see a bear, watch it from a distance and leave it alone. Black bears are not usually aggressive, but the danger may increase if a bear loses its fear of humans.
Homeowners in bear country can avoid most conflicts with bears by following these simple rules of thumb.
- Keep garbage in bear-resistant containers in a closed building until the morning the garbage will be picked up.
- Clean up fruit that has fallen from fruit trees in your yard. In addition to bears, rotting fruit will attract raccoons and skunks.
- Feed pets inside or during daylight hours; do not leave pet food or food scraps outside of your home.
- Store horse and livestock grains inside closed barns.
- Composting in bear country is not advised because decomposing organic materials will attract bears.
- Chicken coops can be protected with electric fencing.
- Keep barbecue grills stored in closed buildings.
Most nuisance bear complaints reported to Fish and Game occur when bears are traveling in search of food and in the fall bears will look for easy pickings as they prepare to hibernate.
Remember, bears will eat almost anything, including human food, garbage, birdseed, and pet and livestock food and they can become conditioned to raiding these food sources and lose their natural fear of people. When that happens they become nuisances or even threats.
Live trapping and moving a bear does not always solve the problem, and bears often will need to be euthanized. That is why biologists often say a fed bear is a dead bear.
Mike Demick is the Conservation Information Supervisor for Idaho Fish and Game based in Boise.