American black bears (Ursus americanus) are the most numerous member of the bear family in North America, and are found from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast. The name "black bear" is misleading, since the color of individual bears varies from blond to cinnamon to brown or black. Although appealing and generally harmless, black bears can injure humans when provoked and should be treated with caution.
The Black bear is a stocky, large animal, one of the largest mammals in North America. Front claws generally longer than hind claws. The fur is long and coarse. Adult males weigh between 200 and 600 pounds (average 350 pounds), females between 150 and 400 pounds (average 250 pounds). Length of 5 to 6 feet and 2 to 3 feet high at the shoulder. The black bear^s rump is higher than it^s shoulder. Breeding occurs in June and July. The young are born in January or February, while the mother is "hibernating". She normally gives birth to two-to-three cubs every two years.
Although classified as a carnivore, the black bear is a true omnivore, opportunistically feeding on a wide range of food items. Analysis of scat (bear droppings) shows that vegetable material almost always comprises over half the bear^s diet, with insects and other animals comprising a small percentage. In particular, fresh leaves, grasses, fruits, berries, nuts, roots, and tubers are favorite foods seasonally, with insects, small mammals, and animal carcasses eaten when the opportunity arises.
When encouraged to eat human food, bears become dependent upon it, which often emboldens them and reduces their natural fear of humans. This can have tragic consequences for the animal and the people it meets. Each year some bears must be killed because they have become too bold and intimidating in their search for human food, causing damage to property, as well as occasionally injuring visitors. If they become conditioned to people, black bears will approach campsites and cars, especially when they sense food. Stay clear and do not make food available to them. Although attacks are infrequent, a hungry bear is unpredictable. Please don^t contribute to their demise.
Should a black bear approach, act aggressively toward it. It is recommended to first try to scare the bear away by yelling loudly, throwing rocks (no bigger than golf ball-sized) near the bear, waving your arms, or banging a pot. If the bear continues to advance, retreat. Never approach a mother with cubs. She will attack in defense of her young.
Truly wild bears shy away from humans, but these intelligent animals learn quickly. Just one experience with human food can change their natural behavior. Yet the bears are not to blame.
Driven by their powerful sense of smell, black bears are drawn by the odors of human food. Once bears get this food, they continue to seek it out -- from backpacks, picnic tables, ice chests, and cars. They cause thousands of dollars in property damage searching for human food and garbage.
When their instinctive fear of people fades, these unnaturally aggressive, destructive bears often must be killed. Moving them to another area is usually not a solution. Bears can only be relocated to where there is good bear habitat but these area often already have bears, therefore relocated bears must often move on to find new territory. They usually return to where they were trapped or die trying. Eventually, many of these bears must be killed.
To Store Food Properly:
Put all food and related supplies, including ice chests, in vehicle trunk. Seal foods in containers to minimize smells. Bears recognize ice chests and cans, so store them the same as food. Also store grocery bags, garbage and scented articles such as soap, sunscreen, hairspray and toothpaste. In vehicles without trunks, all food and related supplies, including ice chests, must be stored out of sight. Cover them completely to hide them from view.
In Picnic Areas
Store all food and related supplies properly, including ice chests. Never leave food unattended. Dispose of all garbage properly.
Store food and related supplies out of sight inside a vehicle. Never keep food in your tent. Never leave camp unattended if food is not stored. Store food day and night. Bears may enter campsites during the day, even if people are there. Keep a clean camp. Put trash in bear-proof cans and dumpsters regularly.
Properly store all food and related supplies left at the trailhead, including ice chests. Don^t leave your backpack and walk off to take a photograph. Bears know packs are a source of food.
The National Park Service strongly encourages backpackers to carry and use bear-resistant food containers. These portable containers are the most effective way for backpackers to store food in wilderness areas. All other techniques are considered only delay tactics, as bears are able to defeat most other backcountry food storage methods.
Never approach any bear, regardless of its size.
Never feed a bear to take pictures or to get a closer look.
If you encounter a bear, act immediately...
Stay Calm - Don^t run or make sudden movements. Throw small objects toward the bear from a safe distance. Yell, clap your hands and bang pots together. If the bear continues to approach you, retreat slowly, don^t run. If there is more than one person, stand together to present a more intimidating figure, but do not surround the bear.
Use caution if you see cubs, as the mother may act aggressively to defend them. When done together, these actions have been successful in scaring bears away. Never try to directly retrieve anything once a bear has it. If you are attacked and cannot get away, fight back, kick, scream, yell -- be aggressive. Report all incidents to Department of Fish and Wildlife, or the State Police.