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Reducing Human-Bear Conflicts

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

In New York State, people and black bears often find themselves living in the same areas. With encounters nearly inevitable, it's good to know how to keep those encounters safe and enjoyable for you and the bears. A summary of the information below can also be found in the brochure Living With Bears (PDF, 93 kB).

black bear in a garbage can

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.

Handling Problem Bears

DEC's handling of individual human-bear conflicts is outlined in the Black Bear Response Manual (PDF, 985 KB) which describes appropriate agency and public response to a wide variety of scenarios in which people might become involved with bears or their impacts. The majority of scenarios involve actions to remove or exclude bear access to human food attractants.

Bears that cause minor problems and are first time or infrequent offenders are subject to aversive conditioning through the use of electrically energized objects, non-lethal rubber projectiles, pepper spray, noisemakers or trained dogs.

Bear peeking out of culvert trap.

Bears that cause more serious, or more frequent, problems are subject to capture, marking, aversive conditioning and, in rare cases, relocation.

The most serious problem bears are subject to capture and permanent removal from the population.

More about Reducing Human-Bear Conflicts: