We need to be cautious about black bears


Dennis is a friend of mine who has a cabin in a very remote part of the Missouri Ozarks.  

About six months ago, he was sitting in a chair outside his cabin, enjoying a very pleasant morning quietly working on a wood carving when a visitor showed up.   

Normally, Dennis can see his visitors as they are coming up the driveway because those visitors almost always arrive in a vehicle.  

This visitor did not arrive in a vehicle. In fact, Dennis did not notice this visitor until the visitor was almost in his face, less than 20 feet away.  

At that point, Dennis decided he probably needed to forget about wood carving or anything else for that matter.   

After a five minute stare-down between the two of them, the visitor finally decided to plop down about 40 feet away from Dennis.  

Fortunately, Dennis had the presence of mind to get his cell phone out and photograph what was happening so that people would not think he just made it up.

After about 20 minutes, the visitor got up and walked off.

A photograph of the visitor — a full grown black bear — is attached to this article.  

This is not the only “Ursus Americanus” or black bear that Dennis encountered close to his cabin in 2020. There have been others.   

Fortunately, these confrontations have been merely stare-downs, but they raise a topic for consideration:  can we continue to regard black bears as harmless and cute?   

After all, they are not really carnivores, right? I thought they primarily ate wild fruit, insects, acorns and an occasional rodent.

Actually, the history of confrontations between humans and black bears here in the U.S. just in the past few years is concerning because it seems to be increasing.  

I will omit Alaska and Canada black bear attacks from the discussion because you kind of expect it there; suffice to say that historically, there have been black bear attacks and fatalities in Alaska and Canada for years so let’s just focus on events here in the lower 48 and only what has happened in 2020.   

This list is not comprehensive by any means.

New Jersey is a state where you would not expect to see a lot of bear attacks but between January and July, 2020, there were at least 10 home invasions.

Ultimately, on August 2, 2020, an 82-year-old man was attacked and killed in his own garage by a black bear.   

And there were many more complaints, too numerous to list here, of bears in the backyards, garbage bins and so on in New Jersey subdivisions.

In Connecticut, by the end of July, there had been 25 home invasions by black bears, including 19 just in the month of June.   

And this does not include the multiple complaints of residents that bears were in the backyard or the garbage.  

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In Tennessee, at least 9 bear attacks had occurred in the Smokey Mountains in 2020, including a fatality on September 9 to a hiker camped overnight by himself. 

In another notable situation, four bears “ganged up” and invaded a house on May 12.  

Colorado has been plagued by home invasions for a few years now. You may recall seeing on YouTube the black bear who invaded a home in Vail in 2017 and was caught on a security camera playing the piano in the living room.   

That may have been a funny situation but the overall problem in Colorado is not so funny, as some of these home invasions occurred when people were inside the residence.

On July 14, for example, a black bear broke into a home and attacked the person inside, causing significant injuries.

In a general sense, the recent attacks and home invasions by black bears is something that was bound to happen sooner or later, as more humans move into rural areas and as wild critters — such as bears, mountain lions, deer and wild turkey — move into our urban areas.   

So what are we supposed to do about this issue?

First, at least as to the bears, we should recognize that black bears are always potentially dangerous.   

I used to spend a lot of time in Montana and while we were always on the lookout for grizzlies, we regarded black bears as harmless; that is obviously the wrong assumption.  

Second, we should learn to recognize “bear signs,” such as claw marks on trees and footprints around the cabin. 

We should also try to become familiar with bear behavior. We should know when to recognize that we are being stalked by a bear and we should know what to do about it if we are being stalked.   

For starters, don’t run away. This usually triggers an attack and that bear can probably outrun you.  

If stalked, we are told to stand our ground and if physically attacked, we are to aggressively fight the bear, assuming it is a black bear. 

We are supposed to “play dead” if we are being mauled by a grizzly — good luck with that, especially if your head is in his mouth.   

If we are in bear territory, it is a good idea to travel in groups of two or three and if a bear is spotted in the distance, we are encouraged to make a lot of noise so that the bear is not surprised by your presence.

As for keeping bears from breaking into your house or cabin, if you have reason to think there are bears in the area, it is important to secure the garbage, bird feeders, small pets and anything else that might attract a bear outside, and have a plan ahead of time if for some reason they break into the house.   

If you have watched any YouTube videos of them bursting into a house, you know it does not take much for a bear to break down a door.

Missouri currently has approximately 500 black bears. These numbers do not begin to compare to the number of bears in New Jersey, Connecticut or Tennessee, for example, but that does not mean one can’t show up in your Missouri backyard some day.  

Several years ago, a young male was spotted in Baldwin, near St. Louis, going from subdivision to subdivision.   

So just be observant and take precautions when you need to do so. These guys ain’t as cuddly as they might look.

(Bill Hoagland can be reached at billhoagland70@gmail.com.)

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