Headed to the Great Outdoors? Be BearWise


Are you headed out to explore the great Georgia outdoors? Be BearWise!

Our state is home to 3 distinct populations of black bears, in the north Georgia mountains, in central Georgia along the Ocmulgee River, in and around the Okefenokee Swamp in southeast Georgia, and occasionally, anywhere in between. If you head out to explore any of these areas, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division encourages you to make sure you are BearWise.

“When we venture into any known bear habitat, we need to do our part to help keep bears wild,” says Adam Hammond, state bear biologist with Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division. “Wild black bears typically go out of their way to avoid people, so taking precautions that do not tempt or encourage them to come closer reduces the potential for negative encounters and allows us to explore and enjoy the outdoors confidently.”

Let’s Review Some BearWise Basics:
•    Stay Alert: Pay attention to your surroundings and if traveling in groups, stay together. Keep kids within sight and close by. Leave earbuds at home and make noise periodically so bears can avoid you. 
•    Leave No Trash or Food Scraps: Double bag your food when hiking and pack out all food and trash. Don’t burn food scraps or trash in your fire ring or grill. Leaving scraps, wrappers, or even harmless items like apple cores teaches bears to associate trails and campsites with food.
•    Keep Dogs Leashed: Letting dogs chase or bark at bears is asking for trouble; don’t force a bear to defend itself. Keep your dogs leashed at all times or leave them at home.
•    Camp Safely: Set up camp away from dense vegetation and natural food sources. Cook as far from your tent as possible. Do not store food, trash, clothes worn when cooking, or toiletries in your tent. Store these items in approved bear-resistant containers OR out of sight in locked vehicle OR suspended at least 10 feet above the ground and 10 feet from any part of the tree. Local regulations vary.
•    Know What to Do if You See a Black Bear: If you see a bear before it notices you, don’t approach. Stand still, enjoy, then quietly move away. If a bear sees you, back away slowly. If a bear continues to approach, hold your ground, wave your arms, yell, throw sticks or rocks, if needed, and encourage the bear to leave. If you are with a group, stay together. If it keeps approaching and you have it with you, use bear spray. If a black bear makes contact with you, do NOT play dead, fight back aggressively.

“Seeing a black bear in its natural habitat is a thrill and a privilege, and not something to be feared. Instead, review and follow BearWise tips to prepare and plan before it happens. That will allow you to have a positive experience and maybe even get a photo – if taken safely – to remember it in the future,” says Hammond.

BearWise is an education program developed by state bear biologists, anchored by the website www.bearwise.org, that offers citizens specific, detailed, and high-quality information, engaging education pieces, and more.

Black bears may legally be taken during the bear hunting season, which occurs each fall in Georgia (GeorgiaWildlife.com/hunting/hunter-resources). Killing bears outside of the hunting season or illegally during hunting season should be reported to Law Enforcement at gadnrle.org/ranger-hotline.

For additional information and further exploration of bear-related outdoor safety tips, visit BearWise.org.