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Reducing Human-Bear Conflicts

Never feed bears intentionally; it is illegal and creates human-bear conflicts.

Handling Problem Bears

black bear in a garbage can

In New York State, people and black bears often find themselves living nearby. Forests and natural areas are a bear's normal habitat. Black bear populations in the state are increasing and bears occasionally wander into populated urban/suburban areas looking for unoccupied habitat and attracted to abundant food sources such as bird feeders and garbage.

The first priority in human-bear conflicts is public safety. DEC evaluates every scenario to determine the severity of human-bear conflicts and to identify problem animals. DEC follows a protocol to handle various scenarios:

  • DEC assesses the situation and then tries to encourage the bear out of the inappropriate setting.
  • If there is no safe way to get the bear out of the area, DEC will try to tranquilize and relocate the bear into a more suitable setting such as the Catskills or Adirondacks. DEC tags relocated bears so it can keep track of repeat offenders, which influences future decisions, should a problem bear have further encounters with people.
  • Relocation does not always work. A nuisance bear sometimes travels great distances, as much as 100 miles, to return to food sources in urban and suburban settings.
  • Some bears repeatedly return to urban and suburban areas. As an animal becomes more comfortable in residential areas and loses its fear of humans, it may aggressively seek out food and become a threat to public safety.
  • Euthanizing a bear is always a last resort. DEC will exhaust all possible options first before making a determination that a bear is a threat to public safety.
  • Placing a black bear at an animal sanctuary is very difficult as most zoos and sanctuaries have too many bears already and will not accept more. DEC does not use this as an alternative.

DEC's Black Bear Response Manual (PDF, 985 KB) outlines the response to various scenarios in which bears interact with people. The majority of actions involve removing food sources that are attracting bears or excluding bears from access to such sources.

Keeping Humans and Bears Safe

A summary of the information below can also be found in the brochure Living With Bears (PDF, 93 kB).

Frequently, humans unknowingly create potential food sources for bears that may attract them into close proximity to residential areas and subsequently result in human-bear conflicts. These conflicts are often associated with activities not intended to attract bears, such as feeding birds, cooking food outdoors, and improperly storing garbage. Most conflict scenarios in New York can be resolved or minimized by removing or adequately securing whatever served to attract the bear.

However, intentional feeding of bears or repeated access to human foods without negative consequence can lead bears to become habituated to human environments (i.e., lose their fear of humans) and/or to become food conditioned (i.e., aggressively seek out human foods). Habituated and food-conditioned bears are often responsible for human-bear conflicts in New York, and these bears may become bolder in their efforts the longer they are successfully able to access human foods without negative consequences.

Report a Bear Problem. Contact your regional DEC wildlife office to report black bear related damage.

Feeding of Black Bears is Prohibited in New York

DEC has adopted a regulation prohibiting the deliberate and intentional feeding of black bears. The incidental, indirect feeding of black bears also is unlawful after a written warning has been issued by the department. For details, read the Black Bear Feeding Regulations.

Reducing Bear Attractants

"Good housekeeping" is a requirement wherever black bears are found. Simple sanitation measures can be the key to avoid attracting bears.

At Home:

  • Remove bird feeders after April 1. Bird feed such as suet and seeds are a very strong attraction for bears, even if they can't reach it. Read more about bears and bird feeders.
  • Do not leave garbage outside of houses or garages. Garbage is extremely attractive to bears. It should always be kept in sealed garbage cans inside a sturdy building like a garage or shed. Even dirty diapers will attract a bear. Note: Burning garbage is illegal and may increase its attractiveness to bears.
  • Mask garbage odors with ammonia-soaked rags.
  • Remove the grease can from gas and charcoal grills after every use. Turn the grill on "High" for several minutes after you are done cooking to burn off residual odors on the grill.
  • Do not place food outside to attract wildlife. Any food stuff used to attract birds, squirrels or other wildlife will also attract bears.
  • Do not feed pets outside. Leftover food or even an empty dish can attract a bear.
  • Do not operate refrigerators or freezers outside or on porches. Bears can smell what's inside.

While Camping:

  • Keep your campsite as clean as possible. Take all garbage and recyclables to the recycling center each evening.
  • Do not leave coolers or food out at any time. Store them securely in either the trunk of your car or in the passenger area of your truck. Keep windows shut and food and coolers out of sight. Where food lockers are provided, food and coolers must be stored and locked inside.
  • Clean up after all meals immediately. Keep grills, pots, pans, cooking utensils, and wash basins clean when not in use. Do not wash dishes under the water faucets.
  • Do not put grease, garbage, plastic diapers, cans, bottles or other refuse into the fireplace.
  • Do not keep food or coolers in your tent. Do not wear clothing to bed that was worn while preparing or eating meals.

In the Backcountry:

  • Use bear resistant food canisters. These are a highly effective means for preventing bears from getting your food, toiletries and garbage. Use of bear resistant canisters is encouraged throughout the Adirondack and Catskill backcountry, and are required in Eastern High Peaks Wilderness of the Adirondack Park.
  • Pack a minimal amount of food. The less food to store the better. Use lightweight and dehydrated foods.
  • Cook and eat before dark. Bears become more active after sunset.
  • Cook away from your campsite. Choose an area at least 100 feet away.
  • Be neat and clean while cooking. Avoid spills and drippings.
  • Keep food in storage containers. Only take out the food you plan to cook. Keep containers nearby and store food immediately if a bear approaches your cooking area.
  • Avoid leftovers. Carefully plan your meals and eat all that you cook.
  • Never leave food unattended. Bears may watch, hidden in woods, waiting for opportunities to steal food.
  • If you do use food hang. Use dark colored cord only as bears can more easily see lighter color ropes and have come to associate them with a food source. Cord should be 75 feet long and the bag should be hung 15 feet above the ground and at least 10 feet away from trees.
  • Do NOT store or hang food in backpacks. The backpack will retain food odors and attract bears.
  • Bear Fact Sheet for Backcountry Users (PDF, 17 KB); Ours Noirs a l'attention des randonneurs (PDF, 75 KB) Version francaise

Remember: Bears are attracted by smells and many things smell like potential bear food. Remove the food attractant and you'll remove the bear.

More about Reducing Human-Bear Conflicts: