BLACK BEARSBlackbear (Ursus americanus) (Ursus americanus)

Scott E. Hygnstrom
Extension Wildlife Damage Specialist
School of Natural Resources
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Lincoln, Nebraska 68583-0974

Additional Bear Control Control Information

Damage Prevention and Control Methods

Exclusion

Fencing has proven effective in deterring bears from landfills, apiaries, cabins, and other high-value properties. Fencing, however, is a relatively expensive abatement measure. Consider the extent, duration, and expense of damage when developing a prevention program.

Numerous fence designs have been used with varying degrees of success. Electric fence chargers increase effectiveness. Depending on the amount of bear pressure, use an electric polytape portable fence (Fig. 4), or a welded-wire permanent fence (Fig. 5).

Electric polytape portable fence for black bear exclusion

Fig. 4. Electric polytape portable fence. One person can easily and quickly install this fence. It is
economical and dependable for low to moderate bear pressures. The fence consists of four strands of electric polytape that are attached to posts with insulators. The cost per fence (33 x 33 feet) is about $200.
1 200-yard roll of polytape
12 4-foot fence rods (5/16-inch diameter)
48 Insulators or clips
4 Gate handles
1 12-volt fence charger
1 12-volt deep cycle battery
Herbicides

To install: Drive in four corner posts 1 foot deep and attach a guy wire. Clip vegetation in a 15-inch-wide strip under the fence and apply herbicide. Attach insulators on the inside of corner posts and stretch the electroplastic wire from the four posts at intervals of 6, 16, 26, and 36 inches from ground level. Hand tighten the polytape and join the ends with four square knots. Drive in the remaining posts at 12-foot intervals, attach insulators (on the outside of line posts), and insert polytape.

Fig. 5. Woven-wire permanent fence for excluding black bears.

Fig. 5. Woven-wire permanent fence. This fence, best used under high bear pressure, is the most
durable and expensive barrier. It can be installed by two people in 8 hours. The fence consists of
heavy, 5-foot woven wire, supported by wooden posts, ringed by two additional electrified wires.
The cost per fence (33 x 33 feet) is about $400.
1 50-yard roll of 6-inch square mesh, 5-foot woven wire
1 150-yard roll of high-tensile (14-gauge) smooth wire
24 8-foot treated wooden posts
40 Porcelain strain-insulators (screw-in types)
1 2-pound box of 1 1/2-inch fence staples
6 gate handles
1 12-volt fence charger
1 12-volt deep cycle battery
Herbicides


To install: Set posts 6 to 12 feet apart in 2-foot-deep holes. Align four corner posts at 5o angles
from the vertical. Brace corner and gate posts from the inside with posts set at 45o angles. Clip a
15-inch-wide strip clear of vegetation under the fence and apply herbicide. Place one length of
welded wire vertically into position and staple the end to a corner post. Pull the entire length of
wire taut with a vehicle and staple the welded wire to the line posts. Continue until all sides,
except the gate opening, are fenced. Fasten two strands of high-tensile wire to insulators
positioned 5 inches away from the welded wire, at intervals of 6 and 56 inches above ground level.
For a 12-foot gate opening, attach three strands of high-tensile wire to insulators on the gateposts.
Space the wires at intervals of 6, 36, and 56 inches above ground level. Connect them to the two
strands previously strung around the fence. These wires will be connected to the positive fence
charger terminal. Attach three more wires to gatepost insulators at intervals of 20, 48, and 64
inches above ground level. These three wires will be connected together and to the ground rod. Fit
insulated gate handles to the free ends of all six gate wires.

Fence Energizing System and Maintenance. To energize the fences, use a 110-volt outlet or 12-volt deep cell (marine) battery connected to a high-output fence charger. Place the fence charger and battery in a case or empty beehive to protect them against weather and theft. Drive a ground rod 5 to 7 feet (1.5 to 2.1 m) into the ground, preferably into moist soil. Connect the ground terminal of the charger to the ground rod with a wire and ground clamp. Connect the positive fence terminal to the fence with a short piece of fence wire. Use connectors to ensure good contact. Electric fences must deliver an effective shock to repel bears. Bears can be lured into licking or sniffing the wire by attaching attractants (salmon or tuna tins and bacon rinds) to the fence. Grounding may be increased, especially in dry, sandy soil, by laying grounded chicken wire around the outside perimeter of the electric fence.

Check the fence voltage each week at a distance from the fence charger; it should yield at least 3,000 volts. To protect against voltage loss, keep the battery and fence charger dry and their connections free of corrosion. Make certain all connections are secure and check for faulty insulators (arcing between wire and post). Also clip vegetation beneath the fence. Each month, check the fence tension and replace baits with new salmon tins and bacon rinds. Always recharge the batteries during the day so that the fence is energized at night.

Black bears are strong enough to tear open doors, rip holes in siding, and break glass windows to gain access to food stored inside cabins, tents, and other structures. Use solid frame construction, 3/4-inch (2-cm) plywood sheeting, and strong, tight-fitting shutters and doors. Steel plating is more impervious than wood.

Bear-proof containers are available for campers in a variety of sizes. They can be used to safely store food and other bear attractants during backpacking trips or other outdoor excursions. In the absence of bear-proof containers, store food in airtight containers and suspend them by rope between two tall trees that are at least 100 yards (100 m) downwind of your campsite.

Food, supplies, and beehives can be stored 15 to 20 feet (4 to 6 m) above ground on elevated platforms or bear poles. Support poles should be at least 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter and wrapped with a 4-foot-wide (1.4-m) piece of galvanized sheet metal, 6 to 7 feet (2 m) above ground. You can also place one or two hives on a flat or low-sloping garage roof. Be sure to add extra roof braces because two hives full of honey can weigh 800 pounds  (360 kg) or more. An innovative technique for beekeepers is to place hives on a fenced (three-strand electric) flatbed trailer (8 feet x 40 feet [2.4 m x 12.2 m]). Though expensive, this method makes hives less vulnerable to bear damage and makes moving them very easy. 

Cultural Methods

Prevention is the best method of controlling black bear damage. Sanitation and proper solid waste management are key considerations. Store food, organic wastes, and other bear attractants in bear-proof containers. Use garbage cans for nonfood items only. Implement regular garbage pickup and practice incineration. Reduce access to landfills through fencing, and bury refuse daily. Eliminate garbage dumps.

Place livestock pens and beehives at least 50 yards (50 m) away from wooded areas and protective cover. Confine livestock in buildings and pens, especially during lambing or calving seasons. Remove carcasses from the site and dispose of them by rendering or deep burial.

Plant susceptible crops (corn, oats, fruit) away from areas of protective cover. Pick and remove all fruit from orchard trees. Remove protective cover from a radius of 50 yards (50 m) around occupied buildings and residences. Locate campgrounds, campsites, and hiking trails in areas that are not frequented by bears to minimize people/bear encounters. Avoid seasonal feeding and denning areas and frequently used game trails. Where possible, clear hiking trails to provide a minimum viewing distance of 50 yards (50 m) down the trail.

Frightening Devices and Deterrents

Black bears can be frightened from an area (such as buildings, livestock corrals, orchards) by the extended use of night lights, strobe lights, loud music, pyrotechnics, exploder canons, scarecrows, and trained guard dogs. The position of such frightening devices should be changed frequently. Over a period of time, animals usually become used to scare devices. Bears often become tolerant of human activity, too. At this point, scare devices are ineffective and human safety becomes a concern.

Black bears are occasionally encountered in the backcountry on trails or at campsites. They can usually be frightened away by shouting, clapping hands, throwing objects, and by chasing. Such actions can be augmented by the noise of pots banging, gunfire, cracker shells, gas-propelled boat horns, and engines revving. It is important to attempt to determine the motivation of the offending bears. Habituated, food-conditioned bears can be very dangerous. Aggressive behavior toward a black bear should not be carried so far as to threaten the bear and elicit an attack.

Black bears can be deterred from landfills, occupied buildings, and other sites by the use of 12-gauge plastic slugs or 38-mm rubber bullets. Aim for the large muscle mass in the hind quarters. Avoid the neck and front shoulders to minimize the risk of hitting and damaging an eye. Firearm safety training is recommended.

Repellents

Capsaicin or concentrated red pepper spray has been tested and used effectively on black bears. The spray range on most products is less than 30 feet (10 m), so capsaicin is only effective in close encounters. Capsaicin spray may become more popular where use of firearms is limited.

Toxicants

None are registered.

Fumigants

None are registered.

Trapping

Culvert and Barrel Traps. Live trapping black bears in culvert or barrel traps is highly effective and convenient (Fig. 6). Set one or two culvert traps in the area where the bear is causing a problem. Post warning signs on and in the vicinity of the trap. Use baits to lure the bear into the trap. Successful baits include decaying fish, beaver carcasses, livestock offal, fruit, candy, molasses, and honey. When the trap door falls, the bear is safely held without a need for dangerous handling or transfer. Bears can be immobilized, released at another site, or destroyed if necessary. Trapped bears that are released should first be transported at least 50 miles (80 km), preferably across a substantial geographic barrier such as a large river, swamp, or mountain range, and released in a remote area. Remote release mechanisms are highly recommended. Occasionally, food-conditioned bears will repeat their offenses. A problem bear should be released only once. If it causes subsequent problems it should be destroyed.

Fig. 6. Culvert trap for live capture of black bears.

Fig. 6. Culvert trap for live capture of bears.

Foot Snares. The Aldrich-type foot snare (Fig. 7) is used extensively by USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services and state wildlife agency personnel to catch problem bears. This method is safe, when correctly used, and allows for the release of nontarget animals. Bears captured in this manner can be tranquilized, released, translocated, or destroyed. Use baits as described previously to attract bears to foot snare sets.

The tools required for the pipe set are an Aldrich foot snare complete with the spring throw arm, a 9-inch (23-cm) long, 5-inch (13-cm) diameter piece of stove pipe, iron pin, hammer, and shovel. Cut a 1-inch (2.5-cm) slot, 6 1/2 inches (16.5 cm) long, down one side of the pipe. Place the pipe in a hole dug 9 inches (23 cm) deep into the ground. Cut a groove in the ground to accommodate the spring throw arm so that the pan will extend through the slot into the center of the pipe. The top of the pipe should be level with the ground surface. Anchor the pipe securely to the ground, where possible, by attaching it to spikes or a stake driven into the ground inside the can. Bears will try to pull the pipe out of the ground if it “gives.” The spring throw arm should be placed with the pan extending into the pipe slot 6 inches (15 cm) down from the top of the pipe. Pack soil around the pipe 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the top. Leave the pipe slot open and the spring uncovered. Loop the cable around the pipe, leaving 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) of slack. Place the cable over the hood on the spring throw arm, then spike the cable to the ground in back of the throw arm. The cable is spiked to keep it flush to the ground so that it will not unkink or spring up prematurely. Cover the cable loop with soil to the top of the pipe. Anchor the cable securely to a tree at least 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter. Cover the spring throw arm and pipe slot with grass and leaves. Place a few boughs and some brush around the set to direct the bear into the pipe. The slot in the pipe and the spring throw arm should be at the back of the set. The bear can approach the set from either side or the front. Melt bacon into the bottom of the pipe and drop a small piece in. The bacon should not lie on the pan. Other bait or scent, such as a fish-scented rag, may be used. Place a 15 to 20-pound (6.8- to 9-kg) rock over the top of the pipe. Melt bacon grease on the top of it or rub it on. The rock will serve to prevent humans, birds, nontarget wild animals, and livestock from being caught in the snare.

The bear will approach the set and proceed to lick the grease off the rock. It will then roll the rock from the top of the pipe and try to reach the bait with its mouth. When this fails, it will use a front foot, which will then be caught in the snare. The bear will try to reach the bait first with its mouth and may spring the set if the pan is not placed the required 6 inches (15 cm) below the top of the pipe. Pipe sets are more efficient, more economical, and safer than leghold traps. Sources of bear foot snares are found in Product Vendors.

Fig. 7. Foot snare for capture of black bears.

 

Shooting

Shooting is effective, but often a last resort, in dealing with a problem black bear. Permits are required in most states and provinces to shoot a bear out of season. To increase the probability of removing the problem bear, shooting should be done at the site where damage has occurred. Bears are most easily attracted to baits from dusk to dark. Place baits in the damaged area where there are safe shooting conditions and clear visibility. Use large, well-anchored carcass baits or heavy containers filled with rancid meat scraps, fat drippings, and rotten fruit or vegetables. Establish a stand roughly 100 yards (100 m) downwind from the bait and wait for the bear to appear. Strive for a quick kill, using a rifle of .30 caliber or larger. The animal must be turned over to wildlife authorities in most states and provinces.

Calling bears with a predator call has been reported to offer limited success. If nothing else works, it can be tried. It is best to use two people when calling since the bear may come up in an ugly mood, out of sight of the caller. As with any method of bear control, be cautious and use an adequate-caliber rifle to kill the bear. Call in the vicinity of the damage, taking proper precautions by wearing camouflage clothing, orienting the wind to blow the human scent away from the direction of the bear’s approach, and selecting an area that provides clear visibility for shooting. See Blair (1981) for bear-calling methods. Some states allow the use of dogs to hunt bears. Guides and professional hunters with bear dogs can be called for help. Place the dogs on the track of the problem bear. Often the dogs will be able to track and tree the bear, allowing it to be killed, and thus solving the bear problem quickly.

Avoiding Human-Bear Conflicts

Preventing Bear Attacks. Black and grizzly bears must be respected. They have great strength and agility, and will defend themselves, their young, and their territories if they feel threatened. Learn to recognize the differences between black and brown bears. Knowledge and alertness can help avoid encounters with bears that could be hazardous. They are unpredictable and can inflict serious injury. NEVER feed or approach a bear.

To avoid a bear encounter, stay alert and think ahead. Always hike in a group. Carry noisemakers, such as bells or cans containing stones. Most bears will leave a vicinity if they are aware of human presence. Remember that noisemakers may not be effective in dense brush or near rushing water. Be especially alert when traveling into the wind since bears may not pick up your scent and may be unaware of your approach. Stay in the open and avoid food sources such as berry patches and carcass remains. Bears may feel threatened if surprised. Watch for bear sign—fresh tracks, digging, and scats (droppings). Detour around the area if bears or their fresh sign are observed.

NEVER approach a bear cub. Adult female black bears are very defensive and may be aggressive, making threatening gestures (laying ears back, huffing, chopping jaws, stomping feet) and possibly making bluff charges. Black bears rarely attack humans, but they have a tolerance range which, when encroached upon, may trigger an attack. Keep a distance of at least 100 yards (100 m) between you and bears.

Bears are omnivores, eating both vegetable and animal matter, so don’t encourage them by leaving food or garbage around camp. When bears associate food with humans, they often lose their fear of humans and are attracted to campsites. Food-conditioned bears are very dangerous.

In established campgrounds, keep your campsite clean, and lock food in the trunk of your vehicle. Don’t leave dirty utensils around the campsite, and don’t cook or eat in tents. After eating, place garbage in containers provided by the campground.

In the backcountry, establish camp away from animal or walking trails and near large, sparsely branched trees that can be climbed should it become necessary. Choose another area if fresh bear sign is present. Cache food away from your tent, preferably suspended from a tree that is 100 yards (100 m) downwind of camp. Hang food from a strong branch at least 15 feet (4.5 m) high and 8 feet (2.4 m) from the trunk of the tree. Use bear-proof or airtight containers for storing food and other attractants. Freeze-dried foods are light-weight and relatively odor-free. Pack out all noncombustible garbage. Burying it is useless and dangerous. Bears can easily smell it and dig it up. The attracted bear may then become a threat to the next group of hikers. Always have radio communication and emergency transportation available for remote base or work camps, in case of accidents or medical emergencies.

Don’t take dogs into the backcountry. The sight or smell of a dog may attract a bear and provoke an attack. Most dogs are no match for a bear. When in trouble, the dog may come running back to the owner with the bear in pursuit. Trained guard dogs are an exception and may be useful in detecting and chasing away bears in the immediate area.

Bear Confrontations. If a bear is seen at a distance, make a wide detour. Keep upwind if possible so the bear can pick up human scent and recognize human presence. If a detour or retreat is not possible, wait until the bear moves away from the path. Always leave an escape route and never harass a bear.

If a bear is encountered at close range, keep calm and assess the situation. A bear rearing on its hind legs is not always aggressive. If it moves its head from side to side it may only be trying to pick up scent and focus its weak eyes. Remain still and speak in low tones. This may indicate to the animal that there is no threat. Assess the surroundings before taking action. There is no guaranteed life-saving method of handling an aggressive bear, but some behavior patterns have proven more successful than others.

Do not run. Most bears can run as fast as a racehorse, covering 30 to 40 feet (9 to 12 m) per second. Quick, jerky movements can trigger an attack. If an aggressive bear is met in a wooded area, speak softly and back slowly toward a tree. Climb a good distance up the tree. Most black bears are agile climbers, so a tree offers limited safety, but you can defend yourself in a tree with branches or a boot heel. Adult grizzlies don’t climb as a rule, but large ones can reach up to 10 feet (3 m).

Occasionally, bears will bluff by charging within a few yards (m) of an unfortunate hiker. Sometimes they charge and veer away at the last second. If you are charged, attempt to stand your ground. The bear may perceive you as a greater threat than it is willing to tackle and may leave the area.

Black bears are less formidable than grizzly bears, and may be frightened off by acting aggressively toward the animal. Do not play dead if a black bear is stalking you or appears to consider you as prey. Use sticks, rocks, frying pans, or whatever is available to frighten the animal away. As a last resort, when attacked by a grizzly/brown bear, passively resist by playing dead. Drop to the ground face down, lift your legs up to your chest, and clasp both hands over the back of your neck. Wearing a pack will shield your body. Brown bears have been known to inflict only minor injuries under these circumstances. It takes courage to lie still and quiet, but resistance is usually useless.

Many people who work in or frequent bear habitat carry firearms for personal protection. High-powered rifles (such as a .458 magnum with a 510-grain soft-point bullet or a .375 magnum with a 300-grain soft-point bullet) or shotguns (12-gauge with rifled slugs) are the best choices, followed by large handguns (.44 magnum or 10 mm). Although not a popular solution, killing a bear that is attacking a human is justifiable.

Editors

Scott E. Hygnstrom; Robert M. Timm; Gary E. Larson

Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage 1994 Logo

PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF WILDLIFE DAMAGE 1994

Cooperative Extension Division Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources University of Nebraska -Lincoln

United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Animal Damage Control

Great Plains Agricultural Council Wildlife Committee

 

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