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April 19, 2011

MADISON - As winter melts into spring and black bears start emerging from their dens, homeowners statewide are encouraged to take precautions to reduce the potential for problems with these hungry bruins.

Because natural food sources are limited at this time of year, bears are often attracted to bird feeders, garbage cans, grills, or other common things found in yards, says Mike Zeckmeister, Department of Natural Resources northern wildlife supervisor.

"Black bears are normally very timid and avoid contact with people however, bears can quickly learn to associate humans with food and can become a nuisance," he says. "Taking steps to remove any food attractants will greatly reduce the likelihood of having problems with bears."

Highly habituated bears can be dangerous and may need to be euthanized. Preventing the problem in the first place is the best solution for bears and people alike, Zeckmeister says.

"When bears become less fearful of humans and humans do not respect bears as wild animals there becomes a problem," he says. "When we have to resolve this problem it is usually too late and the bear loses."

It is illegal to intentionally feed bears in Wisconsin. But people also should not feed bears unintentionally by allowing a food source to be accessible to bears near their home. Bird feeders are a common bear attractant, especially in the spring, and unsecured garbage cans or dumpsters are also potential problems.

Wildlife biologists encourage residents to follow these steps to avoid attracting bears:

  • Don't knowingly feed a bear;
  • Completely remove bird feeders, even during daytime hours. Bears are active during the day and may cause problems even if the feeders are out only during that time.
  • Reduce garbage odors by rinsing food cans before putting them in recycling containers or garbage cans;
  • Compost vegetable scraps;
  • Keep meat scraps in the freezer until garbage day and if possible, keep garbage cans in a closed building until the morning of pick-up. Commercial dumpsters should be locked;
  • Keep pet food inside or inaccessible to bears even during daytime hours;
  • Keep barbeque grills and picnic tables clean.
  • If a bear is near your home, wave your arms and make noise to scare it away. Then back away slowly or go inside and wait for the bear to leave. When scaring the bear away, make sure it has a clear escape route. Never corner a bear.

    If the bear found food such as bird feed or garbage one or more times, it will return to the spot. When food is no longer available the visits will eventually stop. Bears will periodically check sites where food was once available so it may take several days to weeks before the bear will quite visiting a site one the food source has been removed.

    If you encounter a bear while in the woods - stay calm, don't shoot the bear or approach it. Give it space, walk away and watch from a distance. Do not approach sows with cubs.

    DNR partners with U.S. Department of Agriculture -Wildlife Services to handle nuisance bear complaints. People who require assistance with a nuisance bear should contact the Wildlife Services toll-free line at 1-800-433-0663 for southern Wisconsin and 1-800-228-1368 for northern Wisconsin.

    FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Brad Koele (608)266-2151 or Linda Olver (608) 261-7588

    Last Revised: Tuesday, April 19, 2011

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