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Division of Wildlife Resources
A black bear is seen in southwestern Utah. Every summer officials are called to remove nuisance bears.

They look cuddly and cute, like a very large, very alive teddy bear only with real teeth and claws, and, at times, a nasty disposition, especially when a meal is at hand.

Which is why those who have come to know Utah bears best — wildlife officers — issue advisories each year on how to avoid bears — and this year is no different.

Every summer there are human/bear encounters. Most end without harm to bear or human. But, they do occur. In 1992, a young girl was pulled from a camper. Her grandfather beat the bear off with a flashlight. Last year a young boy was pulled from his camp in American Fork Canyon and killed. It was the first recorded fatality in Utah.

It's a fact that there are bears in Utah, even though very few people have ever seen one in the wild, and they do, at times, wander through campgrounds, cross hiking paths and — although it's rare — enter cities.

Every summer the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is called in to remove nuisance bears.

Nuisance bears can be those that have taken refuge within or nearby a city, bears that frequent camping areas in search of food, and those that kill livestock — primarily sheep.

Three years ago, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources trapped and moved more than 20 bears from the four towns in Carbon County — Price, Wellington, Helper and East Carbon.

Most were cubs and yearlings or young bears abandoned by sows.

The DWR policy is that adult nuisance bears are trapped and moved at least 50 miles away. Any closer and within days the bears reappear. One bear was moved 20 miles away and within two days was back.

No one knows for sure just how many bears are in Utah. Wildlife biologists suggest there are thousands and, consensus is, that number is rising. Even at that, it is believed that Utah has the smallest bear population among the Western states.

A bear management report written in 2000 noted that bear problems were on the rise. Between 1967 and 1986, the average number of nuisance bears removed in Utah by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was eight per year. Between 1987 and 1998, the average jumped to 25.

The number of incidents where bears killed livestock doubled between 1994 and 2000.

Western bears are different from those found in the East. Eastern bears are typically black. Western bears vary in color from black to blond. Eastern bears are also larger. Some Eastern males have weighed in at nearly 800 pounds. Western males typically range between 250 and 300 pounds. Females are considerably smaller.

The management report noted that in the West, and particularly here in Utah, black bears often exceed 20 years of age.

The one thing that draws humans and bears together is food. In fact, bears that have come to identify food with human are killed.

In the spring, aspen buds are a menu item. Ants, carrion, rodents, grasses, forbes shrubs and berries are also in their diet. They will eat meat, but not routinely, probably because they are not efficient hunters, like cougars. They are slow and not designed for chasing down game. They will eat winter kill, newborn game animals and, if the opportunity is there, livestock.

Bears that have come in contact with humans and either raided their camps or been handed food, have come to associate humans with an easy meal, and it's a learned experience they don't forget.

To avoid encounters, which could lead to the destruction of the bear, the DWR has issued this advice:

• Don't leave food out.

• Don't scatter food scraps and other litter around your campsite or cabin area.

• Don't keep food in the area where you're sleeping.

• Don't bring items with you that have a strong odor.

• Never feed a bear.

"And by following these rules, you'll be helping other people too," said Kevin Bunnell, mammals program coordinator. "A bear may not visit the area while you're there, but the food you leave out and the litter you leave behind could bring a bear to that same area after you leave. And that could create a serious problem for people who camp in the area after you."

He also offered these suggestions, which can greatly reduce the chance a bear visits your camp or cabin:

• Don't leave food out. Instead, lock your food and coolers inside your vehicle or suspend them at least 12 feet high between two trees, so bears can't reach them. You can also store food in a bear-proof container. But remember that most containers, including plastic coolers, are not bear proof. Bear-proof containers are available at various sporting goods and outdoor stores.

• Don't scatter garbage, food scraps and fat drippings around your campsite, and don't leave them in your fire pit, either. Instead, place them in an airtight container, lock them securely in the trunk of your car or inside your trailer, and take them home with you. If bear-proof garbage cans are available in your campground, you can also leave them in the cans.

• After you're through cooking and eating, immediately clean your cooking grills and anything used to prepare, eat or clean up food.

• Don't keep any food in the area where you're sleeping.

• Cook away from your tent or sleeping area. And don't sleep in the clothes you wore while cooking or the clothes you wore while cleaning fish. Leave those clothes, along with utensils, rags and anything used to prepare, cook, eat and clean up food, at your cooking area or sealed inside a vehicle.

• Don't bring items with you that have a strong odor. Bears have extremely sensitive noses. Anything that has a strong smell, including deodorant, perfume and certain soaps, could draw a bear to your campsite.

If a bear is encountered, Bunnell said, "Stand your ground. Never back up, lie down or play dead. Stay calm and give the bear a chance to leave. Prepare to use your bear spray or another deterrent."

Also, don't run or climb a tree. Black bears are excellent climbers and can run up to 35 mph.

And, it's a good idea to know bear behavior. If a bear stands up, grunts, moans or makes other sounds, it's not being aggressive. These are the ways a bear gets a better look or smell and expresses its interest.

If a black bear were to attack, always fight back with any and all things available. Victims can play dead with a grizzly bear, but not a black bear.

Carrying bear spray when venturing into areas where bears are is always a good idea. Studies have shown that bear sprays are up to 92 percent successful.

If there is a firearm available, shoot to kill. A wounded bear is extremely dangerous.

And, if a bear is encountered, report the sighting to the nearest DWR office.

The numbers are: Cedar City, 435-865-6100; Ogden, 801-476-2740; Price, 435-613-3700; Salt Lake City, 801-538-4700; Springville, 801-491-5678; and Vernal, 435-781-9453.

E-mail: [email protected]