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Reducing Human-Bear Conflicts

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

What causes Human-Bear Conflicts?

black bear in a garbage can full of sunflower seeds

The simple answer is food! Bears are more likely to seek out human food sources in the spring, when natural food is scarce, and in the summer, particularly during periods of drought.

The leading cause of bear complaints in New York is bears getting into residential garbage and birdfeeders.

In New York State, people and black bears often find themselves living nearby one another. Bears can obtain all of the nourishment they need from the forest but they are intelligent and opportunistic animals that will find and consume whatever food they can access most easily. Since bears must often cross roads and pass through developed areas to find the varied habitat types that produce their seasonal food sources, they often find human foods readily accessible along the way, if homeowners do not take necessary precautions. Not every bear that passes through a developed area is a 'problem bear', but available human food sources can quickly turn them into one.

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, improperly storing garbage, and leaving messy grills and pet food outdoors. Most conflict scenarios in New York can be resolved or minimized by removing or adequately securing whatever served to attract the bear.

Bears are opportunistic feeders and will remember where they find easy food, and return to that location frequently. Intentional feeding of bears or repeated access to human foods without negative consequence can lead bears to become habituated (lose their fear of humans) and to become food-conditioned (actively seek out human foods). Habituated and food-conditioned bears may become bolder in their efforts the longer they are successfully able to access human foods, and will eventually become involved in human-bear conflicts. These food conditioned bears are significantly more likely to be hit by cars or shot illegally by people who mistakenly perceive a threat to their own safety.

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 (link leaves DEC website.)

A black bear eating out of a tipped over residential trash can.

Reducing Bear Attractants

Good housekeeping is a requirement wherever black bears are found. Simple sanitation measures can be the key to avoid attracting bears. Take responsibility for your safety and encourage your neighbors to do the same!

At Home:

  • Remove bird feeders after April 1. New York's black bears begin emerging from their winter dens in mid to late March. 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.
  • Garbage is extremely attractive to bears! It should always be kept in sealed garbage cans inside a sturdy building like a garage or shed. Anything with an odor can attract a bear. Note: Burning garbage is illegal and may increase its attractiveness to bears.
    Image of a bear resistant residential garbage can.
    Bear resistant trash cans are used
    all over the country to eliminate
    human-bear conflicts.
    • If you frequently find bears foraging in your garbage cans, despite proper storage, consider using a bear-resistant trash container. (View a list of bear resistant products under 'Links Leaving DEC's website' on the right side of this page.)
    • Mask garbage odors with ammonia-soaked rags.
    • If you have curbside garbage pickup- Take out trash just before your scheduled pickup. Do not put garbage at the curb the night before.
    • Do not place meat or bones in compost piles.
  • Remove the grease can from grills after every use. Turn the grill on "High" for several minutes after you are done cooking to burn residual odors off 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 is inside.
  • Electric Fencing is an effective tool for keeping bears out of apiaries, chicken coops, compost, and gardens.

While Camping:

A sow black bear and her cub attempting to get food out of a standard cooler at a campsite.
Standard coolers are not bear-resistant!
Bears are intelligent and persistent, making
unattended coolers an easy target.
  • 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 cab 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. Standard coolers are not bear resistant.
    • Bear resistant coolers are available for purchase or rent from many local, national, and web-based outdoor recreation retailers. (View a list of bear resistant products under 'Links Leaving DEC's website' on the right side of this page.)
  • NEVER keep food, coolers, or scented items in your tent. Do not wear clothing to bed that was worn while preparing or eating meals.
  • Treat all toiletries as food items. Toiletry products are heavily scented and are as attractive to bears as actual food. Store toiletries securely with your coolers and food.
  • Clean up after all meals immediately. Keep grills, pots, pans, cooking utensils, and wash basins clean when not in use. Do not wash dishes or leave food debris under the water faucets.
  • Do not put grease, garbage, plastic diapers, cans, bottles or other refuse into the fireplace. These items do not properly burn and will attract bears with their odors.

In the Backcountry:

Image of a bear resistant canister with food packets inside.
  • 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 from your sleeping area.
  • Be neat and clean while cooking. Avoid spills and drippings. Do not pour grease into your fire pit.
  • 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 from a distance waiting for opportunities to steal food.
Graphic illustrating the proper method to hang food in the backcountry.

When using a food hang:

Use dark colored cord only as bears can more easily see lighter colored ropes and have come to associate them with a food source, in some areas. Cord should be 75 feet long and the bag should be hung 15 feet above the ground and at least 10 feet away from tree trunks.

Bear Fact Sheet for Backcountry Users (PDF, 17 KB)

Ours Noirs a l'attention des randonneurs (PDF, 75 KB) Version francaise

Handling Human-Bear Conflicts

The first priority in human-bear conflicts is public safety. DEC evaluates every scenario to determine the severity of the situation and to identify problem animals. Roughly 80% of bear problems are resolved over the phone with some simple advice, such as that listed above. However, some situations call for DEC Wildlife staff to go afield to assess or resolve the problem. These situations include bears causing serious property damage, entering homes or buildings, or bears that are in urban/suburban settings and cannot find an escape. In such cases, DEC applies the following protocol:

Image of a NYS DEC live bear culvert trap.
Relocation and hazing of bears is only
part of a temporary solution. If the food
attractant remains, other bears will find
the site and the human-bear conflicts
will persist.
  • DEC assesses the situation and provides guidance to the homeowner on how to encourage the bear out of the inappropriate setting. The majority of actions involve removing food sources that are attracting bears or excluding bears from access to such sources.
  • DEC may decide that the best course of action is to aversively condition a nuisance bear. These bears will be trapped and hazed upon release at that location in hopes of teaching the bear that obtaining food near humans is unacceptable. DEC tags bears that it handles so it can keep track of repeat offenders, which influences future decisions, should a problem bear have further encounters with people.
  • Relocation is very rarely successful, and is therefore very rarely used as a management tool. a relocated nuisance bear often travels great distances, as much as 100 miles, to return to the original site, or will seek out new human food sources in the vicinity of its relocation site. Furthermore, if the food source remains at the original location, other bears will continue to be attracted to that site.
  • 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 persistently seek out food sources around the community and become a more serious nuisance.
  • Euthanizing a bear is always a last resort. DEC will exhaust all possible options 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.

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: