Bear Responsible - Bears Belong!

Bear Expansion Map

The American black bear (Ursus americanus) exists from northern Mexico to Canada and is found in 32 of the American states. There are approximately 900,000 black bears in North America and their numbers are increasing in many of these areas, including Nevada.  While we estimate the number of black bears in Nevada to be upwards of 600 animals. Nevada’s bears are part of the larger Sierra Nevada population, estimated to be around 10,000+ bears.   

Historical records indicate black bears were once widely distributed throughout Nevada, and likely existed at low densities.  They were extirpated from Nevada’s interior by the early 1900s, due to direct removal of bears from conflicts with people and decimation of their forested habitat during the mining booms in the 1800s.  Due to habitat regeneration, and conservation efforts by NDOW and it’s partners, black bear populations have increased dramatically in the western part of the state, and sightings in Nevada’s interior Great Basin have increased in the last two decadesBEARS BELONG in Nevada and we are ensuring they continue to expand, as they are an important piece of Nevada’s vast and varying ecosystems.

Unfortunately, this path to expansion for Nevada bears is now packed with us humans and our garbage, bird feeders, fruit trees, livestock and other good smelly stuff that will attract a bear.  It’s up to Nevada’s residents and visitors to BE RESPONSIBLE in bear country!  Bears are very strong and agile animals so don’t think your food is safe just because it’s in your car. Bears also have an extremely sensitive nose and can smell things like bird feed in a closed container inside your shed! They are quick learners and they are very persistent, eventually learning to open doors and windows.

NDOW recognizes that bears rummaging through garbage or eating apples in backyards may be perceived as a concern and possibly frightening, however, it is your responsibility while living or recreating in bear habitat to remove these attractants before further steps are taken by NDOW. Don’t wait until it’s too late: remove attractants before you have a bear encounter.  By allowing a bear access to your trash, even just once, you are rewarding that behavior and it will revisit your home. Bears may become human-habituated and human-food conditioned, which often times leads them into conflict with people. They may sometimes get to the point where they constitute a public safety risk and have to be killed to avoid a dangerous encounter. This is not fair to the bear. Living in bear country is unique and requires residents take extra precautions.

We are here to help you learn to live and recreate in Nevada’s black bear country.  Below are frequently asked questions and resources that will provide solutions to help make your property or visit safer and less attractive to bears.

 

What about that garbage? What can be done?

Garbage is usually the easiest thing for a bear to get in to and it is what teaches a bear that being in human-occupied areas is easier than natural food sources.  Securing garbage is a simple solution!

Putting garbage out on the morning of pickup, while sometimes a pain, ensures the bears won’t have access to it during the night when no one is around to stop them. 

Purchasing a bear-resistant container (BRC) is the best solution to garbage woes.  With a BRC you don’t have to put your garbage into your garage and risk a bear wanting to break in to access it.  You can leave it outside and the bear can’t get into it and will move on. These systems are always improving.  Find one that works for you here:  

If you live in Washoe County you can request a bear-resistant container from Waste Management here.  

Washoe, Carson and Douglas Counties all have garbage ordinances that are part of the county’s health code. Anyone who does not secure their garbage from animals may be in violation of those ordinances.

We do encourage neighbors to report violations, so if you see someone being irresponsible with their garbage, you can report them to the following Code Enforcement Divisions: Washoe County, Douglas County, Carson City

 

Did you say bears can break into cars?

Yes, they can!  Black bears are well known for breaking into cars for as little as a few pieces of granola spilled between seats.  Do not keep food or garbage in your car for any reason. With their sharp and short claws, it is easy for a bear to peel down the door of a car like a sardine can.  In some areas bears know how to work a car door handle and will allow themselves in that way, and if the door closes behind them they can destroy the interior of your vehicle, potentially hurting themselves in the process. 

 

I love to keep my windows and doors open in the summer to enjoy the breeze and cool night temperatures, but I’ve heard that bears sometimes break into homes. What can I do? 

There is a solution!  A Lake Tahoe-based company called Tahoe Bear Busters has developed a great electric fencing system for homes.  They can electrify windows and doors, so you can feel safe from a bear getting in whether you are home or away.  While the system can deliver a sting to a human, it can’t kill you or the bear. This is a great option for everyone, whether you’re a full-time resident or have a vacation home.  For this system on the Nevada side of the lake, contact Cory Fairchild at (775) 298-1050 or cory@summitcontrolsystems.com.  

 

I love feeding birds. What can I do to avoid attracting bears to my yard? 

While birds don’t need any assistance from humans to find food, we understand that feeding birds is a strong passion that many don't want to stop.  If you want to feed birds, bring in your feeders from dusk until dawn as bears in urban areas are more active at night.  Another option is to spread the seed over a broad area on the ground where birds can easily pick at it, but bears have a more difficult time feeding on individual seeds.  A lot of people hang feeders high in the air where bears cannot get to them, but this still allows a large pile of seed to build up on the ground and attract bears. 

We also recommend you do not birds on your deck or near your house; this teaches bears that they can get close to homes and people and get rewarded for it.  Bears are not pets; they should not feel comfortable coming close to homes!

 

I have bee hives and chickens. Are they at risk? 

Absolutely!  Bee hives and chickens are a well-contained buffet for bears!  There is a simple way to keep them safe.  We strongly recommend using electric fencing to encircle your hives, birds, gardens, etc.  Electric fencing will protect anything you want to keep a smart bear away from. Electric fencing has come a long way and there are very easy systems available to help protect your property. Take a look at this electric system guide to help you find a system that's right for you. Also be sure to check out the following resources:

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I have fruit trees. What should I do? 

The settlers to Nevada established a lot of fruit trees all over, and new ones are planted all of the time!  These trees are on the mental map of bears as a great source of food in the fall when they are trying to fatten up for the winter.  If you do not use the fruit, consider removing the tree altogether.  There are a lot of trees available that still flower in the spring, but do not produce fruit in the fall.

If you do not want to remove your tree, you must keep the fruit cleaned up from the ground and keep your trees gleaned.  Bears cause a lot of damage to tree branches when they climb them to get to the fruit.   While this will not kill your tree, it will affect future production.  If you tree produces more fruit than you need, consider donating fruit to food pantries.

For those that are elderly or infirmed in the Reno area, you can contact the Reno Gleaning Project.  They will pick the fruit and donate it to a food pantry or soup kitchen.  

In the Carson Valley, you can contact Healthy Tree’s Fruit Barons to come glean your trees for you. The food will be donated to food pantries and soup kitchens.  

You may also consider looking into electric fencing to encircle your tree or trees. You will have to do a wide enough area to encircle where the dropped fruit may go, and to ensure the bear cannot reach a branch and be able to climb into the tree.  Your tree will still attract bears to your yard, but they won’t be able to get to the fruit.  

 

I like to hike in bear country, but I’m scared of running into a bear. What can I do? 

The chances of having a dangerous experience with a black bear is extremely slim (really, your flat-screen TV is more dangerous), but it is always good to recreate wisely.  While most bears are going to run away from humans and probably climb a tree, a bear that does not move off the trail can make people nervous.  We recommend hiking with a can of bear spray.  It is easy to use and light-weight which can give you peace of mind!  Not only is it effective against bears, it will help with mountain lions, coyotes, aggressive dogs, etc.

Bears are wild animals and should be treated with respect; having a can of bear spray is a non-lethal option to protect yourself if you are unsure of a bear’s intentions.  The sound it makes when spraying it is often enough to send a bear running.  The spray goes out 30-40 feet and puts up a large cloud which acts like a physical barrier.  Again, it won’t hurt the bear. It is made to irritate their sinuses and send them away from you. 

You can find bear spray in any sporting goods store.  We recommend purchasing a can of inert spray in order to practice so you are better prepared if you have to use it in a live situation.


Can you explain a little bit about bear behavior?

Whether you are living and/or recreating in bear country, you should know how to act in a bear encounter. Keep in mind that bears exhibit stress behaviors which indicate their anxiety and preference to avoid you. These are not necessarily signs of an aggressive bear:

                                                                                                                  2019_417 Bear Behavior

 

  • A bear standing on its hind legs is the least aggressive posture, it is simply trying to get a better look at the surroundings.

In most cases these behaviors are the bears way of telling you that you are too close. Back up and leave the area. Although black bears very rarely attack people, those attacks have increased in number over the last 20-30 years. Knowing how to behave in an encounter will help keep you and your loved ones safe.  

  • Never approach or feed a bear! Give them respect by keeping your distance and observing them from a safe area.
  • Give a bear plenty of room to pass by and it usually will.
  • Keep a close watch on children while they are outdoors and teach them what to do if they see a bear. Tell them to stay together, back away from the bear and find an adult.
  • If a bear approaches you, speak in a loud, firm voice "get away bear!" Raise your arms to make yourself appear bigger and back away to a safe area. You cannot outrun a black bear as they are capable of bursts of speed up to 35 miles per hour!
  • In the rare event of a bear attack, people have succeeded in driving away the bear by hitting it with stout sticks, rocks and punching it in the nose.
  • Carry bear spray and know how to use it!
  • Keep a clean campground. Never store food in your tent. If you are at a developed campground with a food storage box, USE IT! 
  • Do not cook in the same cloths you sleep in and always cook away from your sleeping area.

Remember, persistent or extremely bold bears that pose a public safety risk, such as those that enter homes, may have to be killed. You can play a part in keeping NEVADA BEARS WILD by being responsible with your food and trash, and insist your friends or neighbors do the same.


What does NDOW do if it gets a call about a bear? 

Our first step it to assess the situation. We try to figure out if this bear is knocking over garbage or knocking on windows.  If the bear seems to be escalating in its habituation or food-conditioning, NDOW may set a trap to catch the bear and apply aversive conditioning.  This is a humane, non-lethal management action many agencies engage in to keep a bear from getting to the point where it is considered a public safety threat and may have to be removed. 

When NDOW can engage a bear early on in its conflict behavior we have a much higher success rate in saving the bear. This is accomplished by trapping and tagging the bear, and then releasing it at or near the capture location and using rubber bullets and Karelian Bear Dogs for aversive conditioning.

But when our trapping efforts are hampered by seemingly well-intentioned people, the bear will likely follow a behavior progression that ultimately leads them into potentially dangerous encounters such as entering homes, causing the unwanted death of the bear by officials.

NDOW may be the ones to euthanize a bear, but we are not the ones that killed it. 


When should I call about a bear?

We are Nevada’s bear experts. Always call us about a bear! 

Even if it is just a routine sighting, we appreciate the information and we can answer any and all questions you may have.  If it is a situation that does not warrant a trap being set, we can offer guidance on how to secure the property or resources where you can report possible garbage violations.  NDOW cares about its bears, residents and visitors and we want to ensure that everyone is safe and secure!

For more information on staying safe in bear country refer to these training DVDs.

 

If you have any questions or concerns that are not answered here, please feel free to call NDOW, your bear experts, on our hotline and we can help you find an answer:  775-688-BEAR

HELP US KEEP OUR BEARS WILD!
BE RESPONSIBLE - BEARS BELONG!