The number of bear incidents across the Wasatch Front have doubled since last year, according to a news release from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
In the past month, DWR employees responded to more than 25 bear nuisance reports, usually involving the animals rummaging through campsites, garbage or coolers throughout Utah. In 2018, only 11 incidents were reported statewide and most occurred in the southern part of the state, the DWR reported.
Because of the increased sightings, the DWR is encouraging people to “bear-proof” their food and garbage, especially while camping in canyons and in the mountain foothills.
The black bear is the only native bear species currently in Utah. Northern Utah doesn’t have as big of a black bear population as other parts of the state, but that’s no reason not to be careful when you’re out camping, DWR spokesman Mark Hadley told the Standard-Examiner.
“It doesn’t matter where in the state you are. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there,” he said.
Most of Northern Utah’s bear sightings come from Summit County, Hadley said, and occasionally bears incidents are reported in the Morgan and Ogden valleys. However, sightings of bears become much rarer once you get into the Cache County area.
“Oak brush is a habitat type (bears) really like and we don’t have a lot of oak brush in the Northern Utah area,” Hadley said.
A higher bear population and more people expanding into wildlife habitat areas are likely two of the reasons for the increased sightings, the DWR said. This year’s wet, cool spring may have also kept bears hibernating in their dens a little longer.
Hadley said the DWR has been monitoring three bears in the Summit County area after reported incidents in a cabin community. Recently, some residents made banana bread and set it out on a window ledge to cool down. This brought a bear “right up to their cabin,” Hadley said, and the residents managed to make enough noise to scare it away.
“That’s a good example of something you don’t want to do: set food out where they can smell it and get to it,” he said. “Bears will eat the same kinds of foods we like to eat. They have a really great sense of smell; they can smell items from quite a distance away.”
To reduce bear incidents, the DWR recommends:
Bear-proofing your home outdoor garbage cans by storing your trash in a secure location or a bear-proof container. Clean your trash container regularly to eliminate odors that can attract bears.
Remove or secure items that will attract a bear to your house such as bird feeders, fruit trees, compost piles, beehives, pet food and water bowls, unsupervised outdoor pets, and barbecue grills.
When camping, store your food, snacks and scented items like deodorant and toothpaste in an secure area where a bear can’t get to them. Do not leave them out on tables or keep them in your tent.
Keep you campsite clean by not tossing food scraps and other trash around your campsite or cabin area. Put garbage in trash bags and take it home with you. A dirty campsite can attract bears long after you’ve left and put others in danger, the DWR said.
If you encounter a bear in the wild, Utah’s wildlife experts recommend:
Standing your ground. Do not back up, play dead or back up. Stay calm and give the bear a chance to leave.
Don’t run away or climb a tree. Black bears are excellent climbers and can run up to 35 mph.
Know bear behavior. For instance, if a bear stands up, grunts, moans or makes other sounds, it’s not being aggressive. These are the ways a bear gets a better look or smell and expresses its interest.
Always fight back if a black bear attacks. People have successfully defended themselves with multiple items, including rocks, sticks, backpacks, water bottles and even their hands and feet.
For more information about bears and reducing conflict with other wildlife in Utah, visit http://wildawareutah.org.