Increase in bear sightings in St. Louis area

Missouri is home to about 800 black bears, and this population is growing by 9% every year

ST. LOUIS – The Missouri Department of Conservation announced it had received multiple reports of recent bear sightings in the St. Louis area.

Sightings have been reported in Fenton as well as Jefferson, Franklin and Crawford counties. The department said the sightings are a reminder that black bears are becoming a growing part of the St. Louis regional landscape.

So why the increase in sightings lately? Research by the department shows that Missouri is home to about 800 black bears and the population is growing by 9% each year.

“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, wildlife biologist for the MDC St. Louis area.

Research shows the population is growing in number and range, the Conservation Department reported. As the population grows and grows, bears appear in areas further north. Late spring / early summer is also the best time for bears to get moving.

MDC said the recent surge in local sightings is likely a combination of expanding bear range and the time of year when bears can travel great distances.

The following MDC map shows the reported bear sightings in 2019:

The increase in bears means an increased potential for human-bear interactions. MDC said that while black bears are generally not aggressive, like any wild animal, black bears are driven to find food. It takes a lot of calories to fuel a bear who can weigh several hundred pounds, and they are drawn to a wide variety of foods 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.

MDC said eating or lacking it is key to avoiding conflict with bears.

The department said not to offer them food. Deliberately feeding bears can be dangerous as it makes them feel comfortable around people. It can also cause bears to cause significant property damage while searching for a meal.

MDC said a bear getting used to getting food from humans could lead to increased numbers of encounters, property damage, bold behavior and, ultimately, the bear’s euthanasia.

The department said that such situations can be prevented by making sure bears do not have access to simple foods.

MDC 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 cannot 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.

MDC tips for more safety 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.

For more information on black bears, visit the Missouri Department of Conservation website.

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