It is hot and dry this summer in Georgia. This could potentially create a shortage of natural food sources for wildlife, including black bears. Why is this an issue? Because this could urge bears to seek out food in all the wrong places, including your back porch.
“It is critical in public recreation areas, camping areas, and at homes to minimize the availability of human-provided foods,” explains Adam Hammond, wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division. “Feeding bears, whether intentional or not, creates habituated bears and when a bear learns that it can get a ‘free meal’ from garbage, it’s going to return again and again until eventually it loses its natural fear of humans, which can lead to potential conflict issues.”
Homeowners and business owners can help reduce human-bear issues by taking these important steps:
- Convert to bear-proof garbage containers, or secure garbage inside a garage or other enclosed area.
- Place garbage cans at the curb on the day of pick-up rather than the night before. If there is no curbside pick-up in the area, take garbage to the nearest disposal site as soon as possible.
- In some cases, installing an electric fence around garbage storage areas may be useful to prevent bears from accessing household garbage.
- Remove food scraps from grills and fire pits daily.
- Rinse food cans and wrappers before disposal. Keep garbage cans clean and periodically deodorize them.
- Concerning dumpsters, install bear-proof trash bins, attach reinforcing lids or install latch mechanisms.
Campers and those in recreation areas should note these additional tips:
- When camping, proper food storage means leaving no food, drinks, coolers or garbage in the open. Even non-food items with strong odors, such as toothpaste, deodorant and soap, should be secured.
- Keep all food and scented items secured inside a vehicle or cabin – not in a tent. When camping in the backcountry, place these items inside a knapsack and hoist it out of reach of bears and other wildlife – at least 10 feet off the ground and six feet from the tree trunk.
In Georgia, there are three population centers for black bears. These include the North Georgia mountains, the Ocmulgee River drainage system in central Georgia, and the Okefenokee Swamp in the southeastern part of the state. However, black bears can and do range over larger areas, especially in early spring and late summer when natural food sources are scarce. Young male bears also roam larger areas in an effort to establish their own territory.
The black bear is a symbol of Georgia’s natural diversity, the only bear found in the state and a high-priority species in the state’s Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive conservation strategy. Though now considered the most common bear in North America, the species was nearly eradicated from Georgia by the 1930s due to unregulated market hunting, poaching and large-scale habitat loss. Sound wildlife management practices have restored Georgia’s black bears to a thriving population estimated at 5,100 bears statewide.
For more information regarding black bears, visit www.georgiawildlife.com/, contact a Wildlife Resources Division Game Management office or call 770-918-6416. The public also can visit their local library to check out a copy of an informational DVD entitled, “Where Bears Belong: Black Bears in Georgia” or watch it at www.gadnr.edvid.org/ .