With the onset of warmer weather, black bear activity and sightings will increase as bears
emerge from their winter dens in search of food. The New York State Department of
Environmental Conservation (DEC) today issued guidance on how to reduce and prevent
negative interactions with bears.
“Black bears will take advantage of almost any available food source as they strive to
gain weight after the long winter,” DEC Region 9 Biologist Tim Spierto said. “To prevent
negative encounters between bears and humans, people should never intentionally feed bears and
should take every precaution to discourage bears from seeking out food sources in
neighborhoods and other residential areas.”
Because virtually all nuisance bear problems are the result of hungry bears being
attracted to human food, pet food, bird food or garbage, these problems can be minimized by
taking these simple precautions:
• Never feed bears. Not only does it lead to problems, it is illegal.
• If you believe that bears are being fed, please report it to DEC.
• Stop feeding birds as soon as the snow melts. Birds do not need supplemental food in the
summer, when natural foods are most abundant. Remove bird feeders and clean up all
seed fragments and shells left over from winter feeding as the smell will attract bears.
• Dispose of garbage as frequently as possible and store in a secure building prior to
• If garbage is picked up at the curb, put the garbage out just before the scheduled pickup
or place it in a roadside bear-resistant container. Do not put garbage out the night before
pick-up at the curb.
• Clean garbage cans frequently with ammonia.
• Do not burn garbage – it’s illegal and it attracts bears.
• Clean up barbecue grills before night fall, and after they cool down store them inside.
• Feed pets indoors and store pet food indoors. If pets must be fed outdoors, take in all
uneaten food and dishes before dark.
Recent black bear sightings in Evans, Sardinia and several southern tier communities
indicate that bears are beginning to leave their den sites. The first bears to leave their dens are
typically adult males and sows with yearlings; sows with new cubs will remain in the den longer,
usually emerging in late April or early May. The recent sightings most likely involve sub-adult
males, whose last meal may have been as long ago as December.
Typically, black bears are timid and will avoid all contact with humans. However, bears
can become a nuisance and are capable of causing significant damage if they can obtain an easy
meal from bird feeders, garbage cans, dumpsters, barbeque grills, tents, vehicles, out-buildings or
houses. At this time of year, it is especially important for area residents to be aware of and
eliminate potential black bears attractants, particularly birdfeeders, garbage and pet foods that are
often the most popular food targets for bears.
A recently enacted regulation prohibits both incidental and intentional feeding of bears.
Specifically, the regulation bans intentional feeding of bears and, after previous written notice
from DEC, also prohibits incidental or indirect feeding of bears through food attractants such as
garbage, pet food or bird seed. The regulation grants DEC the authority to require removal of
these and other food attractants when bears become problematic.
Once a bear becomes a problem, DEC is often asked to relocate the bear. Contrary to
popular belief, bear relocations are rarely effective at solving the problem. Bears have excellent
homing abilities and relocated bears typically return to their original capture site or simply
continue their bad habits at a new location. If the circumstances that led to the original problem
are not corrected, other bears will quickly be attracted to the site and bear/human conflicts will
Food-conditioned bears will often become bold and assertive in their quest, potentially
leading to property damage or dangerous situations for humans. It is in the best interest of both
bears and people if bears obtain their food solely from wild sources. Once a bear learns to
associate certain structures with food, it can become a serious nuisance to people and a threat to itself.
“Bears should be respected as wild creatures,” advised Spierto. “Although not inherently
dangerous, bears are very powerful and capable of inflicting injury and property damage. The
simplest and most effective way to avoid a nuisance encounter is to remove all food sources.
Removing the food source will remove the bear.”
In the interest of safety for both people and wildlife, DEC recommends that bears be
observed from a distance, never approached or allowed access to human derived foods. Bears
that lose their natural fear of humans are much more likely to be illegally shot, hit by an
automobile or destroyed under a DEC nuisance permit. Some studies suggest that when a bear is
fed (either directly or indirectly), its life expectancy becomes reduced by as much as 50 percent.
Approximately 1,800-2,500 black bears live in New York’s southern bear range, which
includes the Catskills and parts of central and Western New York (including Allegany County.) Bear populations, particularly in the southern bear range, have been increasing in number and expanding in distribution over the past decade. Additional information about black bears in New York State can be found on DEC’s website at www.dec.ny.gov/animals/6960.html or by contacting DEC Region 9’s Wildlife office at (716) 372-0645.