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Learn to Live Responsibly with Black Bears by Becoming BearWise

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Bears will readily utilize human-created food sources and repeat access can make bears bolder. This can lead to an increase in human-bear conflicts around homes and residential areas, especially when natural food sources are scarce. Feeding bears intentionally is illegal.

The BearWise educational campaign was developed by bear biologists and is supported by state wildlife agencies to promote the delivery of standardized messaging to the public on living responsibly with black bears. DEC is a cooperating state wildlife agency of the BearWise campaign. Learn how to live responsibly with black bears by practicing the BearWise basics at home and the BearWise safety tips when recreating outdoors.

At-Home BearWise Basics

Avoiding human-bear conflicts begins with prevention. By following the at-home BearWise basics, you can help reduce the likelihood of human-bear conflict in your backyard (all links below leave DEC website).

BearWise Safety Tips

Sow teaching cub how to open a cooler
Standard coolers are not bear-resistant!
Bears are intelligent and persistent, making
unattended coolers an easy target.

Although black bears have a natural fear of humans, they can act or become aggressive if surprised, approached, or become emboldened by human food sources. Follow these BearWise safety tips to help keep yourself, pets, livestock, apiaries, and bears safe in bear country (all links below leave DEC website).

How and When to Use a Bear-Resistant Canister

Using a bear-resistant canister is the most effective way to prevent bears from becoming emboldened to obtain food from back-country campers. In the Adirondack Park, overnight campers in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness Area are required by regulation (leaves DEC website) to use a bear-resistant canister between April 1st and November 20th. DEC recommends using a bear-resistant canister whenever primitive camping in bear country. Tested and approved bear-resistant canisters (leaves DEC website) can be purchased or rented from many local, national, and web-based outdoor recreation retailers.

All scented items that could attract a bear, including food, toiletries, medication, garbage, and pet food, should be stored in the bear-resistant canister. Do not hang the bear-resistant canister by rope or keep it attached to your backpack in an attempt to prevent bears from carrying the canister away. Do not keep the canister near water. They are not watertight and do not float. The canister should be kept on level ground at least 100 feet from your campsite and cooking area by creating a camping triangle.

How DEC Handles Human-Bear Conflicts

Bear trap utilized during the negative condition process in order to deter bears from human-sourced food
Bear trap.

Roughly 80% of human-bear conflicts are resolved with some simple advice on how to follow the BearWise basics. However, some situations require DEC to take additional action. These situations include bears causing serious property damage, entering homes or buildings, or a bear that's in an urban/suburban area and cannot escape. DEC's first priority in addressing human-bear conflicts is public safety. DEC evaluates every scenario to determine the severity of the situation and may take one or more of the following steps:

  • DEC assesses the situation to ensure the BearWise basics are being followed. If not, then information on how to begin practicing the BearWise basics is provided.
  • If the BearWise basics are already being followed, DEC may decide to negatively condition the bear. The bear will be hazed in hopes of teaching the bear that obtaining food near humans is unacceptable. DEC tags any bears that it handles so that they can be readily identified if encountered in the future. This data influences future decisions, should a bear have further encounters with people.
  • DEC may trap and euthanize bears that present a clear threat to public safety.

DEC does not relocate or place bears at animal sanctuaries. A relocated bear will often travel great distances to return to where it was originally captured. If it can't find its way back, it will often seek out new human food sources in the area where it was released. Zoos and sanctuaries usually have too many bears already and will not accept more.

DEC's Black Bear Response Manual (PDF) outlines the response alternatives that DEC may take to address various human-bear conflicts.

If you are experiencing a human-bear conflict, even after following the BearWise basics, contact your regional DEC wildlife office for guidance/assistance.