Prevent conflicts with black bears

Black bears can become a nuisance if they wander into your backyard and find food. Here is everything you need to know to prevent conflicts with bears.
Bear at bird feeder

Black bears spend more time in residential areas when they can easily find food, like bird seed and trash. This can cause a bear to lose its fear of people, which can lead to the bear becoming a threat to human safety and needing to be euthanized. You and your community can keep bears wild by taking down bird feeders, protecting livestock with electric fencing, securing all other human-associated food sources, and never intentionally feeding wildlife. These steps are most effective when many people participate, so don’t forget to share these tips with your neighbors! 

Take down bird feeders

  • Bird feeders can harm bears: Bird feeders draw bears and other wildlife into residential areas and near people. There is no safe time of day or year to have bird feeders out. Bears that find bird feeders in backyards will start to look for other food sources, like backyard chickens, goats, and other small livestock. This can cause bears to lose their fear of people through a process called habituation, which can lead to the bear being euthanized to ensure human health and safety. You should remove bird feeders at the first sign of bear activity and avoid leaving empty feeders out. 
  • Bird feeders may prevent bears from denning: Most black bears enter a den between November – March when natural food becomes scarce. However, a bear may forego denning if there’s plentiful human-associated foods available. This could create more human-wildlife conflict as bears would be looking for food year-round. 
  • Bird feeders can spread disease: Bird feeders create wildlife feeding sites. A feeding site attracts both sick and healthy animals. Physical contact between individual animals at feeding sites can cause disease, like mange, to spread. This harms the overall health of wildlife populations. 
  • Other ways to support local birds: MassWildlife recommends growing native plants, shrubs, and trees and adding a water feature to attract birds. These alternative actions may increase the diversity of birds you see and will prevent the unnatural feeding of bears and other wildlife.   

Protect your chickens, bees, goats, sheep, and other livestock

  • Electric fencing: Standard coops or pens will not keep a bear out. Properly installed and maintained electric fencing is the only effective way to protect your chickens, beehives, goats, and sheep from bears. Learn how to properly install an electric fence.

Secure garbage, compost, and other attractants

  • Garbage storage: Store all garbage in closed containers in a garage, outbuilding, or bear-resistant trash can caddy. Put garbage by the roadside the morning of pick up, not overnight. Use double bags or sprinkle garbage with ammonia to help reduce odors. Empty garbage cans still attract bears, so clean cans frequently and store cans inside. 
  • Bear-resistant cans and dumpsters: Bear-resistant trash cans may be available from municipalities or waste management contractors. In areas with common bear activity, bear-resistant dumpsters are recommended for apartments, condos, and campgrounds. 
  • Compost responsibly: Do not put meat scraps, greasy, oily or sweet materials in your compost pile. These kinds of food attract bears and other animals. 
  • Feed pets indoors: Pet food is a tasty treat for bears. Feed your pet indoors or clean up after outdoor feeding. 
  • Clean greasy barbecues and grills: Clean grills after each use. Do not leave food scraps, grease containers or spilled grease in your yard.     

Bear encounters

  • Protect your pets: The presence of a dog could trigger a bear to be aggressive. Keep dogs leashed whenever they’re outside and never let dogs chase or interact with bears. Check your yard before going outside with your dog. If you encounter a bear while with your dog, keep your dog leashed, back away slowly, and leave the area. 
  • Seeing a bear in your yard: If you see a bear in your yard, wait for the bear to leave, then remove or secure food sources on your property. 
  • Seeing a bear in nature: Black bears are usually wary of people and normal trail noise will alert the bear of your presence. If you encounter a bear while hiking or camping, talk in a calm voice and slowly back away. Do not approach bears or intrude between a female bear and her cubs. Do not run. Fight back if a black bear makes contact with you. 
  • Seeing a bear in town: If a bear is sighted in town, leave the animal alone. In most situations, if left alone, the bear will return to the forest on its own. If a bear is in a populated area, contact the Environmental Police Radio Room at 1 (800) 632-8075 or the nearest MassWildlife District Office to report the sighting. The Environmental Police or MassWildlife will provide advice and determine if a response from the Large Animal Response Team (LART) is necessary. In most cases, bears in residential areas do not need a LART response and will leave the area on their own. 

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