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Black Bears, Campers and DEC Campgrounds

Campers and Bears

Campers at DEC campground.

DEC campgrounds are located in the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves. The Adirondacks have the largest population of black bears in New York State (4,000 to 5,000 bears) and the Catskills have the second largest population (1,500 to 2,000 bears). The DEC has developed rules for campers to practice to prevent bear problems at campgrounds.

These rules serve to provide for the safety of the campers and protection of their property, as well as, for the well being of the black bear populations near the campgrounds. The rules are required for campers at DEC campgrounds, however campers at other private and public campgrounds in the Adirondack and Catskill regions are also encouraged to follow these practices.

Rules to Prevent Problems with Bears

  • Illustration of bear eating contents of cooler.
    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.
  • Keep your campsite as clean as possible. Take all garbage and recyclables to the recycling center each day by 8:00 pm
  • Do not keep food or coolers in your tent. Do not wear clothing to bed that was worn while preparing or eating meals.

Limekiln Lake Campground

Food locker for storing food at DEC campground.

Due to the prevalence of nuisance bear problems, the DEC has installed food storage lockers at all campsites at the Limekiln Lake Campground. Campers at campsites with food lockers, are required to store and secure food and coolers inside the food locker. Also, campers are required to read and agree to follow the above guidelines as a condition for use of the facility. Campers may be evicted if any of the guidelines are violated.

Bear Feeding Regulation

It is a violation for any person to engage in any direct, indirect or incidental feeding of bears. Indirect or incidental feeding means a person provides an attraction for a bear, even though there was no intent to attract a bear. The regulation defines indirect or incident feeding as "using, placing, giving, exposing, depositing, distributing or scattering any material for a purpose other than to attract or entice bears but which results in the attraction or enticement of a bear."

DEC Campgrounds and Bears

Bears and other wildlife are an integral part of the forest environment and observing them in their natural habitats enriches the outdoor recreation experience at campgrounds. Bears, however, can cause damage to camper's vehicles, tents, coolers, and other equipment in their attempts to obtain food from campers. DEC Campground, Wildlife and Law Enforcement staff have developed policy and procedures to minimize the occurrence of bear problems at its campgrounds to ensure a safe, enjoyable camping experience for campers, while maintaining a healthy, natural black bear population.

Minimizing Bear Problems

DEC campground staff maintain clean campgrounds, so as not to provide any attractants for bears. Special attention is given to the recycling centers. No garbage is left outside the recycling centers after dark and odors are minimized and masked.

As previously mentioned, DEC has begun installing food lockers at Limekiln Lake Campground due to chronic bear problems. Food lockers may be installed at other campgrounds, if it is determined that the level of bear problems warrant them.

DEC educates all campers on how to properly store food and manage garbage and recyclables while at the campgrounds. Efforts are made to increase campers awareness and appreciation of bears, and the importance of following campground rules.

DEC enforces the bear rules and regulations to ensure that campers don't jeopardize the safety and enjoyment of themselves or others. Campers that break the rules can not only be expelled from the campground, but can also be ticketed for violation of environmental regulation and pay substantial fines.

Handling Problem Bears

DEC campground and wildlife managers have also developed policy, protocol and procedures for dealing with problem bears, and all campground staff receive training on this subject.

The DEC has identified a range of actions to be used against the problem bears based on the persistence of the bear and the severity of the problems. These actions are undertaken only by authorized, properly trained, DEC staff.

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 some cases, relocation.

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

While these actions are being undertaken, a portion or all of the campground may be closed as warranted.

DEC Campgrounds strive to ensure a safe, enjoyable camping experience for all, and to maintain a healthy, natural bear population.