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Bears are hitting town, and they’re hungry: here are tips to stay safe

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Utah.gov
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Even the bears know Park City is an appealing place to spend time in the summer.

Utah is home to black bears. For newcomers to the world of bears, that doesn’t mean the bears are black. They can be brown, red, even blondish in color. But all the bears here are technically black bears.

Scott Root, outreach manager for Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources, says Utah hasn’t had any grizzlies in a century, so people don’t need to worry about encountering them in the wild.

Even though bears tend to avoid humans, they can be disconcerting to encounter – especially around your yard or on a trail.

This summer has seen more bear sightings than usual in Summit County, which Root said is likely due to drought affecting their natural food sources and driving them into more populated areas in search of something to eat.

Root confirmed that multiple bears have been spotted around the county in recent weeks. He said that once a bear has found something to eat in a particular area, like your trash can, it will count on that for more food and hang around – which is not good for anyone.

“Like they say, a fed bear is often a dead bear, and we don't want to do that,” he said. “We want bears to stay wild and free up in that forest above us but once they start coming to town and they're getting rewarded that usually doesn't fare well for that bear.”

To avoid killing bears that have become a nuisance, DWR crews can trap them alive and relocate them. But if bears become aggressive in protecting a food source it’s discovered, they become a public safety hazard and may need to be euthanized.

Root said none of the bears that have been sighted locally are targeted for euthanasia; the DWR is trying to trap them alive.

The local bears are behaving the way wildlife experts expect them to – they’re foraging. One recent incident occurred on trash night, and with all the cans out, there were plenty of opportunities to find food.

Root advised leaving trash cans in garages until the morning of pickup and offered other tips for making one’s property less attractive to bears.

“Keep your yards clean," Root said, "and when I say keep your yards clean, keep your barbeque grills clean you may have to pull down your hummingbird theater and your bird feeders which is just like sacrilege to me because I'm a big bird fan, or keep your pet food in the garage as well and keep your pets inside if at all possible. You don't want to have a small dog or cat unattended in your yard if you have a bear in the area.”

Some residents are more curious than apprehensive, and want to know exactly where the bears have been sighted. But Root said no one is getting coordinates from him.

"Well, we just don't want people to know, because there's a lot of curious people that want to see the bear. You know, there may be one or two though don't want us to take a bear in mind, you know, if we have a trap, maybe sabotage it or something. Those things happen. The thing is, is we've had at least three different areas throughout Park City, so I would just say pretty much the entire city is close to at least a bear too."

Root encourages people to make some noise on trails to give wildlife a heads up that you’re coming. He advised carrying bear spray in an easy-to-access spot like a fanny pack, and avoiding hiking alone. During bear encounters, he said stand your ground, raise your arms to look bigger, and make a lot of noise yelling.

With black bears, you’re not supposed to play dead if they approach you – Root says fight back.

Visit https://wildlife.utah.gov for more information and tips on bear safety.

Michelle, who joined KPCW in 2021, arrived in Utah in 2018 by way of Massachusetts, where the skiing was icy and the mosquitoes formidable. A former daily newspaper reporter and editor (at the Visalia Times-Delta in CA) and columnist (at The Cohasset Mariner in MA), Michelle has been a writer and editor for decades. She holds a journalism degree from CSU Fresno and has worked as a journalist, freelance writer and web content creator, reporting extensively on education and youth along with general assignment and breaking news.