Garbage is irresistible to a hungry black bear. The presence of available garbage encourages bears to change their normal movement patterns and “hang out” in non-traditional range areas. What can you do? One of the first, and most important, things to do is to stash your trash to resolve potential human-bear conflicts.
“Feeding bears, whether intentional or not, creates habituated bears,” explains Adam Hammond, wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division. “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.”
Garbage is just one of the many non-natural food items that attract bears. Birdseed and pet food round out the top three most common types of attractants. Homeowners in known bear areas, or in areas where bears have been sighted, are advised to bring pet food indoors and remove birdfeeders during spring and summer.
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.
Homeowners and business owners can help 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.
- 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.
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, visit www.georgiawildlife.com/, or contact a Wildlife Resources Division game management office. A video titled “Black Bears in Georgia: Sightings and Tips” available at https://www.youtube.com/user/GeorgiaWildlife.