Important Safety Tips for Living in Bear Country

Important Safety Tips for Living in Bear Country
Safety Tips for Living in Bear Country
Important Safety Tips for Living in Bear Country

As I mentioned in a previous post (Happy Fourth of July), a while back I had a bear on my back porch.

I have always wanted to see a bear…but I wanted to see one from afar.  Far, far, far away.  The kind of distance you need binoculars for.

This summer, my dogs (which are outside dogs in the summer) started barking like crazy around 4:30 in the morning.

Sometimes I chose just to ignore the dogs, because I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to investigate what they are freaking out about…to see them barking like mad at a squirrel.  Seriously boys?!?!  You woke mom up for this.  I am not even kidding, this has happened too many times.

On this particular morning, around 4:30 my dogs started barking like crazy!  I had just laid my little one down after nursing for a bit, so my first reaction was a feeling of irritation because I was sure they would wake her!  Sometimes I feel like these dogs are my nemesis/best friends!

Then, I heard the noise of what I thought was someone jingling my fence.

That got me up pretty quickly.  It was a holiday weekend, and I thought to myself with town being so crowded, somebody in town was up to no good and trying to get in my back yard.

When I turned the light, assuming I was going to have to yell at somebody or my dogs, instead this is what I saw on my back porch.


Sorry about the quality of picture.  It was late, dark, and I was taking pictures through a screen and window.

I was pretty scared, because as I mentioned before my dogs were outside.  And one was hooked up because he is the World’s Greatest Dog Escape Artist.  Luckily, the bear never even batted an eyelash at them.  He just finished the dog food that I had foolishly left out on the porch.

This led me to do some research on being safe in bear country, because quite frankly – while I am glad to be able to mark “Seeing a Bear” off my bucket list, I really don’t want to see one that close again.

Note:  As I finished editing this post, a video went viral about a guy named Todd Orr in Montano surviving a bear attack!  He is one lucky guy!

Types of Bears found in North America

A first step toward learning how to live safely in bear country is to understand bears.  The three types of bears that are found in North America are black bears, brown bears, and polar bears.  This post will focus on black bears and brown bears, because they are the two types of bears that a person in North America is most likely to encounter.

American Black Bears

The most common type of bear found in North America is the American Black Bear.


American Black Bear Subspecies

And there are numerous subspecies of the American Black Bear, including the New Mexico Black Bear, Eastern Black Bear, California Black Bear, Cinnamon Bear, and the Glacier Bear.  Each sub-species descriptions are slightly varied, but most of the the black bears have the following description.

Physical Description –

  • Average weight is 200 pounds, but has been known to be as large as 600 pounds.
  • Body length is between 5 and 6 feet when full grown.
  • Have stocky bodies.
  • Legs are short and powerful
  • Fur color is dark back to cinnamon, and rarely blonde.
  • Pointed noses
  • High-set ears.
  • Short, curved and sharp claws.
  • Does not have a hump at the top of their shoulders.

Physical Abilities and Characteristics

  • They are most active during twilight hours (early morning and evening)
  • They are able to climb trees with they claws.
  • Can easily outrun a human.

Habitats –

Black bears can be found in a huge variety of environments which changes according to the sub-species.  They can be found from low elevation desert to tundra areas above the tree line

These habitats include:

  • Stands of chaparral.
  • Pinyon Juniper woods.
  • Forested areas with relatively inaccessible terrain.
  • Areas with thick overgrown understory vegetation.

Eating Behaviors –

  • Omnivores – eat plants and animals.
  • Majority of diet is plants (85 percent) which includes roots, berries, and nuts.
  • A large part of their animal diet includes insects such as ants, bees, and yellow jackets.
  • Animal diet does include fish and sometimes small animals.
  • Will eat carrion, or dead animals, when they find it.
  • Will eat any mammal from the size of a mouse to a bison. (Although usually this is carrion)
  • Regularly eat ungulates which are hooved animals like deer. (Also typically carrion)
  • Prefers to eat what is easily available.
  • Fruits and berries often consumed during summer and early fall.
  • Loves honey and hummingbird feeder syrup.

Brown Bear

The most well-known subspecies of brown bear in Northern America is the Grizzly bear, which includes the Kodiak Bear, Alaska brown bear, and the Mexican Grizzly Bear (although this subspecies is believed to be extinct).


Physical Description –

  • Fur not always completely brown.
  • Claws longer and less curved than black bears.
  • Blunt claws.
  • Long thick fur.
  • Fur color in North America ranges from dark brown, cream, or yellowish brown.
  • Does have hump at the top of their shoulders.

Physical Abilities and Characteristics –

  • Brown bears are less likely than black bears to climb trees because of their blunt claws. (Although it is possible).
  • Males average size is 30 percent larger than females.
  • Size is largely various depending on subspecies.
    • but can be between 4’7” and 9’2” tall.
    • can have weights between 120 and 790 pounds.

Habitats –

Ninety-five percent of the United States’ brown bear population can be found in Alaska.

Brown bears are consistently repopulating in lower regions of the country; including the Rocky Mountains, the western portion of the Great Plains, Yellowstone National Park, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, and Idaho.

These Habitats include –

  • Prefer open to semi-open habitats.
  • Have no altitude preference, have been seen as low as sea level.
  • Like areas with dispersed vegetation for resting during the day.

Eating Behaviors –

  • Omnivores – eat plants and animals.
  • Most brown bears plant diet consists of 90 percent of their diet.
  • Portion of diet that comes from animals changes depending on region. (Varies between 50 percent and 11 percent).
  • Will eat any mammal from the size of a mouse to a bison. (Although usually this is carrion)
  • Regularly eat ungulates which are hooved animals like deer. (Also typically carrion)
  • Prefers to eat what is easily available.
  • Fruits and berries often consumed during summer and early fall.
  • Loves honey and hummingbird feeder syrup.

Safety Tips

Now that we know what species of bears we live near and what they look like it is important to follow some tips to avoid danger.

Tips for recreating in bear country will be addressed in a future post, because it is such a huge topic.

Safety Tips for Living in Bear Country

If you live or are vacationing in bear country it is important to fall some safety tips to keep yourself, your children, and pets safe.


Minimize Attracting Bears to Your House

Bears can smell food and trash from over a mile away.  Take some precautions to prevent attracting them to your home.

  • Store trash securely.
  • Do not set trash bins outside the night before pick up.
  • Eliminate hiding spaces from landscaping in your yard.
  • Enclose areas below decks and porches.
  • Keep compost piles away from your house.
  • Make sure to clean grills after using them.  If possible store your grill in a shed or garage.
  • Keep woodpiles at a distance from your home.  Woodpiles attract rodents, which attracts bears.
  • Grow berries and fruit trees away from your house.
  • Pick fruit as soon as it ripens, because rotting fruit on the ground can attract bears.

Prevent Being Startled By or Startling a Bear

  • Install motion detector lighting outside.
  • Make sure walkways are illuminated.

Keeping Pets and Livestock Safe

  • Do not leave pet food outside for long periods of time.
  • If possible feed pets indoors.
  • Bring pets  indoors at night or confine them to a kennel that has a sturdy roof.
  • Keep livestock in pens that are not close to you house.
  • Make sure livestock pens are sturdy and consider electric fencing.

Enjoying Birds in your Backyard

  • Either eliminate hummingbird feeders or bring them inside before dusk.
  • Only leave out enough bird food for one day.

Keeping your Family and the Bears Safe

The most important thing is to keep your family safe.

But it is also important not to attract bears, because once they find an easy source of food they will keep returning.

In fact, the bear that I told you about in the beginning of this post, did return a second time.  But, that time he found that there were no hummingbird feeders or dog food left outside so he just kept rolling on by.  He was gone before I could wake my husband.

A Bear used to Human Food can Become Dangerous

As I mentioned before, once a bear finds a source of human food it will return.  And they can lose their natural fear of humans and become extremely aggressive.

According to the Department of Game and Fish, a nuisance bear will be moved once and possibly twice.  If a bear is found foraging through trash or becoming a nuisance near homes a third time, will be killed.  Bears that have aggressive behavior are also killed.

And if a mother bear is killed it is very likely that the cubs will soon die.  A mother bear was killed in my community a few weeks after I had my bear sighting.  And the cubs were relocated to a rehab facility, but I am not sure how likely it is that they will survive.

Keep You and Your Family Safe!

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