Black Bear Damage Prevention and Control Methods

Overview of Damage Prevention and Control Methods

Habitat Modification

Prevention is the best way to control damage by black bears. Sanitation and proper management of garbage are essential. Store food, organic waste, and other attractants in bear-proof containers. Use garbage cans for nonfood items only and place food waste in bear-proof garbage receptacles (Figure 6). Pick up garbage regularly. Reduce access to landfills through fencing, and bury refuse daily. Eliminate garbage and carcass dumps. Surround dumpsters with electric fences. Only feed birds during winter, when bears are denning. Plant crops (corn, oats, fruit) away from areas with protective cover. Pick and remove all fruit from orchards.  

Figure 6. Bear-proof trash can.  
Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Prohibit the feeding of bears. Locate campgrounds, campsites, and hiking trails in areas that are not frequented by bears. Avoid feeding and denning areas and frequently used trails. Where possible, clear hiking trails to provide a minimum viewing distance of 50 yards down the trail.  

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 plywood sheeting, and strong, tight-fitting shutters and doors. Steel plating is more impervious than wood.  

Place beehives (Figure 7) on a flat or low-sloping garage roof. Add extra roof braces as 2 hives full of honey can weigh 800 pounds or more. Another technique is to place hives on a fenced (three-strand electric) flatbed trailer (8- x 40-foot). Though expensive, this method makes hives less vulnerable to bear damage and makes moving them very easy.  

Figure 7. Beehive that was damaged by a bear.  
Photo by Paul D. Curtis. 

Exclusion

Confine livestock in buildings and pens, especially during lambing or calving seasons. Remove and dispose of carcasses by deep burial. Place livestock pens and beehives away from wooded areas or protective cover, and surround them with electric fences.  

Fences have proven effective in deterring bears from landfills, apiaries, cabins, and other high-value properties. Fences, however, may be relatively expensive. Consider the extent, duration, and cost of damage. Many fence designs have been used with varying degrees of success. Electric chargers increase the effectiveness of fences.  

One person can easily and quickly install an electric polytape fence (Figure 8). It is economical and dependable for low to moderate pressure from bears. The fence consists of 4 strands of electric polytape that are attached to posts with insulators. 

Figure 8. Electric polytape portable fence.  
Image by PCWD. 

Frightening

Habituated, food-conditioned bears can be very dangerous. Any frightening method should not be carried so far as to threaten a bear and elicit an attack.  

Black bears can be frightened for short periods of time from an area (buildings and livestock corrals) by use of night lights, strobe lights, loud music, pyrotechnics, exploder canons, scarecrows, and trained guard dogs. The position of frightening devices should be frequently changed. Individual bears usually become habituated to them, at which point frightening devices are ineffective and human safety becomes a concern.  

Aversive conditioning requires unpleasant experiences to encourage bears to stop nuisance behaviors (e.g., visiting landfills or getting close to urban areas). Hazing is most successful when used on bears older than one year, before they become conditioned to food provided by humans. Tactics include chasing accompanied by yelling, throwing rocks, cracker shells, pepper spray, 12-gauge plastic slugs, gel-filled paint balls, bean bags, or 38-mm rubber bullets. Aim for the large muscle mass in the hindquarters of the bear. Avoid the neck and front shoulders to minimize the risk of damaging an eye. Safety training for firearms is recommended. Karellian bear dogs have been used effectively to haze habituated bears out of urban areas and livestock facilities.

Repellents

Capsaicin spray has been tested and used effectively on black bears in close quarters and threatening encounters. The range for most products is less than 30 feet, so capsaicin is only effective in close encounters. Do not spray capsaicin on objects or in areas in an attempt to repel bears: the spray actually may attract them.  

Toxicants

No toxicants are registered for control of bears.  

Shooting

As a last resort, shooting is effective for dealing with a black bear that poses a threat to safety. Permits are required in most states to shoot bears. To increase the probability of removing the individual causing the problems, shooting should be done at the site where damage has occurred.  

In many states, it is illegal to bait bears. Bait should be used to remove bears that are causing severe damage or are a risk to public safety. Permits are required for baiting bears in most states where it is legal. Bears are most often attracted to bait from dusk to dark. Place bait in the damaged area with safe shooting zones. Use large, well-anchored carcasses or heavy containers filled with rancid scraps of meat, fat, and rotten fruit or vegetables. Establish a stand 100 yards downwind from the bait and wait for the bear to appear. Strive for a quick kill, using a rifle of .30-caliber or larger. Shotguns (12-gauge) with slugs are effective at short range (less than 50 yards).  

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 tree the bear, which then allows it to be killed. 

Trapping

  • Cage traps
  • Cable restraints