Tips for Minimizing Nuisance Bears

Tips for Minimizing Nuisance Bears

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

AUGUSTA, Maine –-( This spring, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is strongly encouraging homeowners to take food source and food-odor prevention steps around their properties as ways to deter bears that could become a nuisance or danger.

Bears have recently emerged from their dens throughout Maine and are in search of food that is not readily available to them at this time of year. They are drawn to bird feeders, garbage cans, dumpsters and grills – where food or the odor of food is prevalent – or to areas where people believe it’s OK to leave food for them.

“It is important to remember that food odors attract bears to your back yard,” according to MDIF&W Wildlife Biologist Jennifer Vashon. “For example, bird feeders are one of the main reasons we receive bear nuisance calls, and also, garbage that is brought to the curb the night before pickup or is stored outside is a great temptation to a bear. We encourage everyone, especially this time of year, to bring in bird feeders and keep their garbage inside until the morning of trash pickup.”

An incident two years ago in Livermore Falls involved a mother bear who had become dependent on people for food and taught her two cubs the bad habit of foraging for food in peoples’ backyards; they became a nuisance to fearful neighbors. In another case, a bear became adept at getting into dumpsters and actually slept during the day in a treetop in the neighborhood. These could become dangerous situations and result in the bear being destroyed.

Bears who become reliant on people for food return to the same locations to eat.

“The worst case scenario is that a bear will hurt someone,” according to Vashon. “It’s happened elsewhere and it could happen here. In this unfortunate circumstance, we’d have to destroy the bear.”

Spring is when the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Maine Warden Service receives hundreds of nuisance animal complaints, and bears near homes and in neighborhoods are among the calls.

To minimize exposure to nuisance bears, we suggest the following:

  • Bring in your bird feeders at night and rake up the seed that has fallen underneath the bird feeder.
  • Store garbage and garbage cans in the garage or basement until trash day, and put out the cans the mornings of pickup.
  • Nothing with a strong food odor should be composted in the back yard.
  • For grills, burn off as much of the meat and grease as possible and then brush or scrape grills clean. Grills should be stored in a closed garage or shed.
  • Use dumpsters with heavy metal lids that latch shut. Keep the lids and self-closing doors shut. If garbage is overflowing, contact the trash hauler to pick it up.
  • If you have pets and feed them outdoors, bring their food dishes inside at night.
  • Store all livestock feeds in a secure location.
  • Encourage your neighbors to take the same steps that you are to deter bears.
  • When camping, put food and other items with an odor, including candy, toothpaste, suntan lotion and soap, in sealed containers. If camping near your vehicle, keep the sealed containers in it. Never store food or candy in your tent or sleeping quarters. If food or other odorous items cannot be stored, place them in a “bear bag” that is at least 12 feet above the ground and 10 feet from the nearest tree trunk. After meals, store all leftovers and immediately wash dishes. Dump the dishwater away from the camp or use a sump hole to filter the water, and then burn the food scraps. Carefully burn all leftover food, wrappers and grease. Don’t bury them or throw them in a latrine.
  • If a bear shows up in your backyard, stay calm. Shout at it like you would to chase an unwanted dog. Most bears are timid enough to be scared away by yelling, waving or banging pots. Check first before going outside. Black bears blend into night skies, thus providing the chance of an encounter. Use outside lights to full advantage and look outside from a safe position, such as a porch or window.
  • Never approach a bear.