Bear sightings reported in St. Louis and nearby counties—MDC biologists say don’t feed them
St. LOUIS, Mon. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has received several reports of recent bear sightings in Fenton as well as neighboring counties of Jefferson, Franklin and Crawford. They remind us that black bears are becoming a growing part of the St. Louis regional landscape.
Why the increase in sightings lately? MDC’s ongoing bear research shows that the Show-Me-State currently has around 800 black bears and the population is growing by 9% every year. Only one species can be found in this state – the American black bear – although multiple phases of color can be found in Missouri, so a bear’s fur can be brown, red, and cinnamon.
“Most of our bears are found in the southern part of the state. That’s where we have the largest forested habitats, ”said Tom Meister, MDC biologist for wildlife damage control in the MDC St. Louis area.
However, research also shows that the population is growing in both total numbers and range. As the population grows and grows, bears appear in areas further north. Additionally, late spring / early summer is the best time for bears to get moving. Young bears migrate in search of food and an area to settle in, and adult males move great distances in search of females. The recent surge in sightings is likely a combination of the expansion of bear range and the time of year when bears can travel great distances.
These creatures are part of the natural history of our state and many people enjoy the thought of seeing one of these formidable animals. However, as the bear population grows, the potential for human-bear interactions increases.
Although generally not aggressive, like any wild animal, black bears are driven to find food. It takes a lot of calories to fuel an animal that typically weighs several hundred pounds, and it can be attracted to a variety of food sources at this time of year.
“The bears haven’t hibernated since spring. Now they are hungry. They slept all winter and looked for food. So we don’t want to tempt them, ”said Master.
Food, or rather the lack of food, is key to avoiding conflict with bears. Master emphasized not to intentionally or unintentionally offer them food. Deliberately feeding bears can be dangerous as it makes bears feel comfortable around people. It can also cause bears to cause significant property damage while searching for a meal.
A bear that gets used to receiving food from humans can become a problem that can lead to increased encounters, property damage, bold behavior, and ultimately the bear’s euthanasia – remember, a fed bear is a dead bear. Such situations can be prevented by making sure bears do not have access to simple foods.
Despite its primary concentration in the Ozarks, recent sightings in the St. Louis area support MDC wildlife biologists’ expectation that bear encounters will continue to increase over time.
MDC suggests the following tips to avoid problems if a bear has been spotted in the area.
- Store trash, recyclables, and compost in a secure building or in a bear-safe container or location.
- Regularly clean and disinfect dumpsters to minimize odors that could attract bears.
- Keep grills and smokers clean and store them inside.
- Don’t leave pet food outside. Feed pets one serving at each meal and remove empty containers.
- Avoid using bird seed in bear sanctuary from April to November. When using them, hang them at least 10 feet high and 4 feet from any structure. Remember that even if a bear can’t get to the bird food, the scent can still lure it into the area.
- Use electric fences to keep bears away from beehives, chicken coops, vegetable gardens, orchards, and other potential sources of food.
These measures will also reduce problems with more common creatures such as raccoons and coyotes.
While black bears are generally a shy, non-aggressive species, and bear attacks are rare in North America throughout their range, MDC offers these tips to help you stay safe outdoors in bear sanctuary:
- Never intentionally offer bear food!
- Keep the campsites clean and keep all groceries, toiletries, and trash in a safe vehicle or high between two trees.
- Do not store food or toiletries in a tent, and do not burn or bury rubbish or food waste.
- When hiking, make noises such as clapping, singing, or speaking loudly to avoid catching a bear by surprise.
- If possible, travel in a group.
- Keep dogs on leashes.
- Pay attention to the surroundings. If there are signs of a bear, such as tracks or droppings, avoid the area.
- Leave the bears alone! Don’t walk up to them and make sure they have an escape route.
With a few sensible measures, it is possible to welcome Missouri’s black bears back to the wild as our neighbors without inviting them to the dinner table.
For more information on black bears in Missouri, visit mdc.mo.gov/bearaware. Report bear sightings and submit photos online at mdc.mo.gov/reportbears.
In addition to teaching Missourians directly on how to be aware of the state’s black bears, the Missouri Department of Conservation is affiliated with the BearWise® program. BearWise is a multi-state awareness campaign developed by black bear biologists and supported by state wildlife agencies such as MDC that provides in-depth information and smart solutions that help people, neighborhoods and communities avoid black bear problems and keep bears wild. BearWise shares ways to prevent conflict, provides resources to solve problems, and encourages community initiatives to keep bears wild. Learn more at BearWise.org.