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Black Bears in New York's Back Country

Ours Noirs a l'attention des randonneurs (75 Kb pdf) Version francaise

Bears are plentiful in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains and portions of southwestern New York near Allegany State Park. Some bears have become adept at stealing food from humans. Your actions can help reduce conflicts between bears and humans while ensuring you a pleasant experience in the woods.

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.

Bear Facts

A picture of a Black BearBlack Bears are Large - They have erect, rounded ears; a long, narrow, brown muzzle; and a short tail. An average adult male weighs about 300 pounds while females average about 170 pounds.

Bears Eat Anything - They are omnivorous; eating grasses, berries, fruit, nuts, seeds, insects, grubs, and carrion, as well as human sources of food like corn, honey, bird seed, trash, and pet food when available.

Bears are Curious - They spend a great deal of time exploring for food, and this can bring them close to humans.

Bears are Intelligent - Bears learn from experience. If an activity results in food, they will repeat that activity. If an encounter with a human is negative, they learn to avoid humans.

Bears are Common in the Adirondacks and Catskills - The Adirondacks are home to the largest black bear population in New York State (4,000 to 5,000 bears) and the Catskills contain the second largest population (1,500 to 2,000). The Allegany Region has a small population of bears (300-500). You are likely to encounter a bear while camping in the backcountry in the regions.

Feeding Bears Creates "Bad" Bears - When bears learn to obtain food from humans, they can become bold and aggressive. See Nuisance Black Bears for more information.

Woman feeding bear - Never do this!Feeding Bears is Bad for Bears - Bear's natural foraging habits and behavior can be changed. Usually solitary, bears can be concentrated in areas causing stress, injuries from physical conflicts, and the spread of diseases. Often when feeding on garbage or camper's supplies bears will eat unhealthy materials such as soap, shaving cream, insect repellant, food packaging, etc.

Do Not Feed the Bears - Never deliberately feed bears and avoid unintentionally feeding bears.

Backcountry Food Practices

Pack a Minimal Amount of Food - The less food to store the better. Use lightweight and dehydrated foods.

Cook and Eat Before 7 pm - 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 often watch, hidden in woods, waiting for opportunities to steal food.

Use Bear Resistant Food Canisters - These are a highly effective means for preventing bears from getting your food, toiletries and garbage. (see below)


Picture showing improperly stored food ransacked by bearIf You Do Use Food Hangs - 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 Resistant Canisters

Bear resistant canisters are a highly effective means of protecting food and are required in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness. Bears can defeat most other food storage techniques and in some areas in the Adirondacks they routinely obtain and access even properly hung food bags.

  • Bear resistant canister
    Canisters are small, durable, and contain odors.
  • The lids are specially designed so bears cannot open or break them.
  • Canisters weigh only 3 to 5 lbs., can fit in a backpack or be strapped to the outside.
  • A canister can hold up to 5 days of food for one person, when properly packed. (See the "Packing a Bear Resistant Canister" link to the right above)
  • Store food in a sealed plastic bag and place inside the canister.
  • Also store toiletries and trash in separate sealed plastic bags and place inside the canister as well.
  • Store the canister on the ground away from your tent.
  • Place reflective tape on the canister for easier retrieval in the dark.
  • Canisters have been proven to resist grizzly bears and are required in many National Parks.
  • Bear resistant canisters are available for purchase or rent from many local, national and web-based outdoor recreation stores.

Bear Encounters

Never Approach or Surround a Bear - Bears aggressively defend themselves when they feel threatened. Be especially cautious around cubs as mother bears are very protective.

Avoid Walking Trails at Night - Stay in your campsite to avoid chance encounters.

Illustration of bear eating contents of a cooler.Use Noise to Scare Bears from Campsite - Yell, clap or bang pots immediately upon sighting a bear near your campsite.

Never Run From a Bear - If you feel threatened, back away slowly.

Do Not Throw Your Backpack or Food Bag at an Approaching Bear - This practice will only encourage bears to approach and "bully" people to get food.

Know Where Bears are Active - Contact the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation about the area you plan to visit.
Eastern Adirondacks: (518) 897-1291. Western Adirondacks: (315) 785-2261.
Northern Catskills: (607) 652-7367. Southern Catskills: (845) 256-3098.
Eastern Allegany region: (607) 776-2165, ext. 16. Western Allegany region: (716) 372-0645.

Prevent Bear/Human Conflicts - Plan, handle, prepare and store food properly. Bears will keep to themselves and you will keep all your food for yourself.

Brochures and Tip Strips

Would you like information about black bears and avoiding problems with them in the backcountry to distribute through business, school or organization? The following documents may be downloaded, copied and distributed:

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