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DEC issues guidance to reduce bear conflicts in New York State

The Department of Environmental Conservation says black bear movement increases in June as breeding season begins and young bears disperse to find their own space.
Credit: Lancaster Police Department

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. — The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is reminding New Yorkers to take additional precautions to reduce conflicts with bears across the state.

The DEC says black bear movement increases in June as the breeding season begins and young bears disperse to find their own space. Yearlings —bears that are 1 year old — tend to wander through suburban or urban neighborhoods, according to the DEC.

"We have recently begun to see a rise in reported sightings of black bears in suburban and urban areas," said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. "While seeing a bear is an exciting experience for many New Yorkers, bears that are inadvertently fed by humans exhibit unnatural behaviors and can become a nuisance.

"DEC encourages homeowners, property managers, and outdoor enthusiasts to follow guidance to reduce bears' access to attractants like garbage, birdseed, and pet food to discourage nuisance bears."

The DEC says bears have an acute sense of smell and may attempt to eat anything they perceive as edible, such as stored garbage, birdseed, livestock, pet food, and barbecue grill grease traps.

Once a bear discovers a food source, it may return or seek similar foods at neighboring properties. The DEC says a bear will continue on its way if it cannot find anything to eat.

If you see a bear in an unexpected location, simply be aware of its presence, and observe the bear without attempting to interact with it. The DEC says nearly all bears that wander into urban and suburban areas will leave as quickly and quietly as they appear if they are left alone and given the opportunity.

The DEC is advising New Yorkers to take down bird feeders, store garbage containers and pet/livestock feed securely indoors, clean grill grease traps and to ask your neighbors to do the same.

Intentionally feeding bears is illegal and is a ticketable offense. The DEC says bears that obtain food from humans will continue to seek food from humans, thus becoming nuisance bears, which can pose a threat to humans.

New Yorkers are encouraged to take the following precautions around dwellings:

  • Remove all bird feeders.
  • Keep garbage, grills, pet food, and bird seed inside a solid, secure structure such as a house, shed, or garage.
  • If grills cannot be secured, clean grills, move them away from houses, and remove grease traps after each use.
  • Put garbage on the curb the morning of collection (not the night before) and use bear-resistant trash containers.
  • Close garage doors as well as windows and doors on the ground-floor.

Campgrounds visitors should utilize the following guidelines to reduce potential bear conflicts:

  • Keep campsites as clean as possible.
  • Clean up after all meals immediately. Keep grills, pots, pans, cooking utensils, and wash basins clean when not in use.
  • Leave coolers and food inside car trunks or truck cabs.
  • Store food and coolers in food lockers when available.
  • Never keep food, coolers, or scented items in tents when camping. Store toiletries securely with coolers and food.
  • Do not put grease, garbage, plastic diapers, cans, bottles, or other refuse in the fireplace.
  • Dispose of garbage in the campground's dumpsters every evening.

Visitors to the backcountry are encouraged to:

  • Pack a minimal amount of food. Use lightweight and dehydrated foods. Plan all meals to avoid leftovers.
  • Use bear-resistant food canisters, which are required in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness of the Adirondack Park.
  • Cook and eat before dark and cook away from campsites.
  • Avoid spills and drippings while cooking and do not pour grease into fire pits.
  • Never leave food unattended.

If you encounter a bear:

  • Don't panic. Most bears are as afraid of people as people are of bears.
  • Never approach, surround, or corner a bear.
  • Back away slowly-do not run.
  • Do not throw backpacks or food at bears. If bears are rewarded with food, they will continue to seek food from people.
  • If feeling threatened by a bear, raise your arms over your head to look bigger and yell loudly at the bear while slowly backing away.

When to report a nuisance bear:

  • When a nuisance bear presents an immediate danger to public safety, call 911.
  • If a bear is damaging property or is reluctant to leave the area, but the situation is not an emergency, call the regional wildlife office during business hours, or call the DEC Law Enforcement Dispatch Center at 1-844-332-3267.
  • If bear cubs are known to be orphaned in the spring or summer (before July), call the DEC. After that time, cubs generally survive on their own.

For more information about black bears, click here. For more information about how to reduce conflicts with bears, click here.

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