The Missouri Department of Conservation is reminding Missourians to be “Bear Aware” this spring as the hungry mammals are leaving their winter dens to search for food.
Missouri is home to an estimated 900 black bears, with a large portion remaining south of I-44. According to MDC, human-bear conflicts are on the rise with a growing bear population. Areas near Poplar Bluff, Lake of the Ozarks and southwest of St. Louis are seeing reports of more male bears in recent years.
MDC biologists say it’s important for residents and visitors to remove anything from their property that may be appealing to bears, such as pet food, food waste, bird feeders, trash and even barbecue grills.
Residents should store pet food, livestock feed and trash in secure buildings or containers. Bee hives are often protected with electric fencing.
Black bears can live from 15 to 20 years and have an exceptional memory, which means the creatures are notorious for revisiting locations of interest.
Missourians should never feed a bear either on purpose or by accident. The MDC’s motto is, “A fed bear is a dead bear.” If a bear loses its fear of people and becomes too curious, it may become more aggressive and bold. Bears displaying bold traits are often euthanized.
If bears remain persistent, trained MDC agents can use negative experiences to detract them from future visits. Agents have been known to use paintballs, bean bag rounds, tasers, cracker shells and rubber bullets to accomplish the mission. While “aversive conditioning” can discourage a bear from a revisit, the solution may only be temporary.
If people encounter a bear in the wild, they should remain as far back as possible and offer the bear an escape route, but most importantly of all never run from a bear.
Bears generally evacuate into the trees when threatened and may even explore tree stands out of curiosity. Hunters are instructed to make noise, stand up and make their faces visible to immediately alert bears of their presence.
MDC began a 10-year Black Bear Management Plan in 2020. The plan is intended to inform management decisions, convey priorities on minimizing human-bear conflict with population growth, and increase statewide awareness.
The department uses science-based methods to research, monitor and manage habitats and population.
Attacks on humans are uncommon. If you experience a nuisance bear or damage, contact your regional MDC office or local conservation agent. Missourians are always encouraged to report bear sightings to the MDC.
For further questions, residents can reach out to MDC Furbearer Biologist Nathaniel Bowersock at 573-815-7900 ext. 2903.