Bear Logic - Think! Like a Bear


Nevada’s forested areas are good black bear habitat!

Ever wonder why there seems to be so many bears in forested areas where humans like to live, such as Lake Tahoe and other communities in western Nevada? Think! like a bear using BEAR Logic and the answer comes easily. Bears, like all animals, need good habitat to survive, with plenty of food, water, cover and room to roam. Black bears also need trees to climb for protection. The carrying capacity of this habitat (how many bears it will support) is limited by the amount of each of these things. Some areas in Nevada where humans also like to live fulfill all these requirements and then some.

Imagine you were a bear living in Nevada in 1880 and all you had to eat was the normal "bear" stuff, like berries, grass, pinenuts, insects and occasionally a small animal. There wasn’t much garbage around to get into, but even if there was you’d probably get shot at if you were seen near it. Fast forward 100 years and in addition to all the normal things to eat you find the habitat cluttered with human homes, each with a trash can left outside, fruit trees and bird feeders in the backyard, and maybe a pond or two in the neighborhood. Bears love all of this, especially the human trash, as it provides an easy and tasty food source, high in calories, that is very dependable in space and time. In other words, it is in the same place every week, all year long, and it is constantly being refilled with good bear food. Suddenly the carrying capacity of this area went from a few bears to dozens of bears!

In addition, black bears exist from northern Mexico to Canada and are 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. 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.

Now that you know this information and you start to Think! like a bear you can easily learn to prevent conflicts with black bears.

When NDOW is able to engage a conflict bear early on in the bear’s conflict behavior progression we have a much higher success rate in modifying this behavior and 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 good-intentioned people the bear will likely follow a behavior progression that ultimately leads them into potentially dangerous encounters such as entering homes, causing the death of the bear by officials.

To date, we have saved over 400+ bears using this technique. Please help us save Nevada’s bears by CALLING US FIRST at (775)-688-BEAR, (775)-688-2327 when you have a human-bear conflict that has not been successfully remedied by removal of all human food attractants.

Download the Bear Bulletin

Avoiding human-bear conflicts

The NDOW recognizes that bears rummaging through garbage or eating apples in backyards may constitute a nuisance and possibly frighten people, 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 you have a bear encounter because by allowing a bear access to your trash, even just once, will help educate that bear and cause it to revisit your home. These types of bears become human-habituated and human-food conditioned, which often times leads them into conflict with people. Sometimes they get to the point that they constitute a public safety problem 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.

To avoid human-bear conflicts follow the steps below.

  • Use bear resistant containers (BRCs) and place them outside at least 25 feet from the house so bears do not learn to associate the smells and food rewards with your home.
  • Use removable bird feeders (including humming bird feeders) for temporary placement, or better yet, scatter bird seed on the ground, not in a container or in a pile. This way, bears and other animals like deer won’t be able to easily get it.
  • Keep pet food cleaned up or indoors. Place horse grain and chicken feed inside lockable metal containers and keep them outside so bears do not break into your shed or barn.
  • Use electric fencing to keep bears out of gardens and orchards. Hanging strips of tin foil on the wire and smearing it with peanut butter helps to educate the bear. You should also remove any fruit as soon as it ripens.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife initiated and fully supported passage of NRS 501.382 . This new law will allow us to protect bears as it prohibits the feeding of bears and all other big game animals.

County Ordinances

No Wildlife-Feeding and Garbage Laws - [PDF]

All three counties along the Carson Front (Washoe, Carson and Douglas) have ordinances which prohibit your allowing bears access to your trash.

Although NDOW does not endorse any product, we can provide you a list of locally available bear resistant products.

Bear Resistant Containers (BRCs) for your household trash:

Electric bear fencing resources:

Bear Encounters

Whether you are living and/or recreating in bears 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 conflict with you. These are not necessarily signs of an aggressive bear.

  • Moaning and woofing while avoiding direct eye contact with you.
  • Clacking of their teeth and smacking of their jaws.
  • Stomping on their front feet and false charges which stop short of making contact with you.

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! NDOW does not endorse any product but our bear biologist and game wardens use Counter Assault for close bear encounters.
  • Keep a clean camp Never store food in your tent
  • 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’s bears out of trouble by being responsible with your food and trash and insist your friends or neighbors to do the same.

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