Black Bears Frequently Asked Questions

On several occasions I have seen a bear around my house. Is this normal?

In many areas of Kentucky it is fairly common to bears near human dwellings during the spring and summer months. This time of year natural foods may be limited and bears could be looking for an easy meal. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and are likely being lured by some type of food attractant. These attractants typically include garbage, pet food, and birdfeeders. The best thing to do is identify the attractant and remove the source. Bears will move on after realizing there is no food to be obtained.

What can I do to if I have a bear getting into my garbage and making a mess of my yard?

The first thing to realize is that the bear is simply going after an easy meal. Almost all of these types of problems can be eliminated by simply removing the attractant. Store garbage in a closed structure and put it out the morning of garbage pickup, not the night before. This way, garbage does not sit out overnight and lure bears into your area. Problems may be further addressed by purchasing or constructing a bear-resistant garbage container.

Are black bears dangerous?

Black bears are normally very elusive and shy animals… and unless they have become accustomed to human food sources, they tend to avoid people. Bears are very curious animals, however, and this should not be mistaken for aggression. Prevent any conflicts by treating bears with respect as they are wild animals whose behaviors can be unpredictable.

What should I do if I encounter a bear at close range?

The first rule is that you want to make your presence known by yelling and shouting at the bear in an attempt to scare it away. If a bear is reluctant to leave then proceed to throw rocks or other objects at the bear while continuing to yell. Portray yourself as the dominant animal and do not back down. If a bear is close enough that you feel uncomfortable, slowly back away, continuing to yell while watching the bear at all times. Never run from a black bear as this may trigger a natural response to chase.

Is it legal to feed bears in Kentucky… even if it’s just a few doughnuts?

NO!!! In addition to contributing to the likely death of that bear, you are also breaking the law. In Kentucky, the direct or indirect feeding of black bears is a crime that is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, up to a year in jail and the loss of hunting and fishing privileges for up to 3 years. Feeding bears creates behaviors in those animals that are almost impossible to correct.

What is so wrong with feeding bears?

Despite what some people think, black bears do not naturally occur in trashcans or a person’s backyard in the middle of town. Animals exhibiting those behaviors are doing so because they have either been fed or have learned to feed on improperly stored garbage or pet food. When bears are intentionally fed, they learn to associate people with food and lose their natural fear of humans.

The home range of black bears in Kentucky can exceed 80 square miles. If you feed a bear in your backyard, that animal is eventually going to leave and may travel to a house 10 or 20 miles away. The bear will again expect to be fed… because you have taught it to associate people with food. At that point the safety of other people becomes a concern because they may have absolutely no interest in having a bear in their yard. Even worse, their new “problem” is of absolutely no fault of their own but they are stuck with the consequences.

If I have a bear getting into garbage in my neighborhood, wouldn’t the simplest thing be to just trap the bear and move it someplace else?

While relocation is an option to the immediate issue it will not solve the underlying problem. Unless garbage is properly stored another bear will move in and the problem will start all over again. In addition, black bears have an incredible homing instinct and can travel amazing distances in relatively short periods of time. The KDFWR has trapped bears and moved them 10, 20 even 55 air miles away and they still find their way home. Ultimately, relocating bears is not an effective long-term management tool. Instead, the proper storage of human-related foods and never feeding bears is the key.

Why is it that nuisance complaints always seem to rise in April and peak in the summer?

Black bears den for the winter months and typically emerge in late March or early April. When they emerge from dens, natural foods are scarce and often bears are lured by the smell of human-related foods.

Nuisance reports peak in June and July for two reasons. Number one, that is the breeding season for bears and males are traveling great distances in search of females. In doing so, they have increased opportunities to encounter human dwellings. And second, yearling bears are now on their own trying to establish a suitable home range. In their travels, young bears may also be lured by the smell of human-related foods.

What should I do if I see someone feeding a bear?

Immediately call the KDFWR and report the offense. Feeding bears is absolutely the worst thing that people can do to ensure a bear’s death. Fed bears lose their natural fear of people and become habituated to humans. Consequently, habituated bears live shorter lives than “wild” bears as they tend to die by vehicle collision or poaching by spending so much time around human dwellings. In addition, people who feed bears are teaching those animals to associate people with food. Would you want a bear like that coming around your house?

If I think a bear is acting aggressively towards me should I run?

No! Running from a black bear will likely trigger a natural instinct to chase. In addition, bears are extremely powerful animals that run at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour in short distances. Make your presence known by yelling at the bear and slowly back away without turning your back. In the event of an attack, fight back using everything in your power- including fists, sticks, rocks, or any other debris. Do not play dead!