Officers with Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources are beginning to get reports of black bear sightings, as the animals emerge from their winter hibernation.
KPCW checked in with a spokeswoman for the DWR, to get some tips about how to be safe when camping or recreating in the forests and mountains.
Faith Jolley, a PIO for the Wildlife Division, said recreationists in the forests need to remember that they’re in the bears’ neighborhood.
Grizzly bears are long gone from this state, they inhabit Wyoming or Montana.
Black bears, who can also be colored brown, can be seen all over the state of Utah.
“There’s obviously some in the Uinta’s. We advertise that as bear country here. Really, I mean a lot of the kind of higher elevation wooded areas, you could possibly see a bear. So that's kind of why we're offering some of these safety tips now. People are starting to get out camping and hiking in some of those areas.”
Jolley said it should be noted that bears are willing to eat the same food that humans eat.
“They don't actually typically eat a lot of meat. They do kind of focus more on some different fruits and bugs and things like that. They'll just eat anything that people eat. So, that's one of our big safety tips is they have a great sense of smell. So, we ask people—they smell what you're cooking, and you’re camping basically in their home. It might entice them to come over and check it out.”
If you are camping or picnicking, you need to follow some common-sense guidelines to make sure your site is bear-proof.
“We recommend that people lock it in their trailer, in the trunk of their car. Basically, make sure it's not in an area where they'll be able to smell it, and have easy access to it. Especially we recommend never never keeping those kinds of items in your tent.”
Their sense of smell can also lead bears to go after things like deodorant and toothpaste.
“They can just smell some of those more strongly scented items and it can attract them to an area. We specifically ask a lot of people that I've seen camping will sometimes brush their teeth at their little water spicket area and then they’ll just leave their toothpaste and toothbrush on their picnic table at their campsite. We just recommend that people lock those items away as well. Even though it's not traditional food for us, it is something that’s strongly scented that could attract a bear.”
While many people might not think about it, they have to be careful with their cooking grills also.
“They think you know there's not food left on it, but it still can have some of that residue, some of that scent. We usually ask the people will bring something to kind of clean it. Even if you're just wiping it down with paper towels that you have at your site. Then the biggest thing is a lot of people just think once they are done cooking some meat or bacon or something, they'll just dump the oil or the grease somewhere in their campsite. Obviously, that's a very pungent smell. That's one as well that we ask rather than dumping it. Make sure you're putting those oils and grease and things into some kind of container.”
Of course, one of the most important rules is—don’t feed the bears.
“A lot of people will think they’re just having this fun interaction with this animal. The truth is if a bear loses its fear of people and it's being drawn to an area, typically if it keeps coming back and it does become a threat to people then that animal unfortunately does have to be euthanized to keep people safe. That's one thing we're saying, if you love these wildlife you like to see them for their safety as well, just make sure you're keeping them away from people and from your campground,”
Jolley said if you should encounter a black bear in the forest, do not back down.
“We recommend that you just stand your ground. Don't back up, don't act submissive, don't lie down and don't play dead with black bears. Just stay calm and give the bear a chance to leave. We especially recommend don't run away or climb a tree because they will outrun and outclimb you. A lot of people don't know black bears can run up to 35 miles an hour. You're not going to be able to outrun them. Usually they're just more curious. If you kind of are assertive and stand your ground they’ll take that opportunity to leave. If they do attack, then we recommend definitely fight back.”
She said bear spray can be effective. If you don’t have that, fight back with your backpack, a water bottle, or whatever is available.
Finally, she said you should not misinterpret the bear’s behavior.
“If they stand up or grunt or moan or kind of make other noises it's kind of their way of expressing themselves. That they’re just kind of interested in what they're seeing. They're trying to get a better look or trying to smell you. It doesn't necessarily mean that they're about to attack”
Jolley said that for all the information on being “bear aware” you can check out their website here.