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September 19, 2013 7:51 am

Be aware of Hungry Bears

Written by Tribune Staff

This black bear enjoyed a summer swim, but both black bears and grizzlies will be much more focused  on food as they prepare to den up for the winter. This black bear enjoyed a summer swim, but both black bears and grizzlies will be much more focused on food as they prepare to den up for the winter. Photo courtesy Richard Brady

With cone crop diminished, more bear-human encounters possible

Be alert for bears this fall.

Available foods will bring bears to lower elevations this fall, according to National Park Service officials.

Hunters, hikers and others in the outdoors need to be bear-aware, according to the Wyoming Game & Fish Department.

Unlike the last two years that produced abundant crops of whitebark pine seeds, this year few cones were produced by the high-elevation trees.

Due to the low yield whitebark pine crop, an increase in human-bear encounters in the backcountry is expected this fall as bears seek alternative foods common at lower elevations. In the last week, Yellowstone National Park and U.S. Forest Service officials have observed a significant increase in bear activity at lower elevations near trails, roads and developments where bears are foraging for berries, bison carcasses, digging ant hills and ripping open logs for ants.

Berry production has been especially good this year. In addition, apple trees have been highly productive this year. However, since berry producing shrubs and apple trees are generally found at lower elevations more frequently inhabited by people, both agencies expect human-bear encounters to be more common this fall.

The federal agencies offer the following guidelines for staying safe when hunting or recreating: 

• Carry bear spray.

• Hike in groups of three or more people.

• Be alert for bears at all times, and make noise so you don’t surprise bears.

If you encounter a bear, do not run. Slowly back away to put distance between you and the bear. This often diffuses the confrontation.

If a bear charges, stand your ground and use bear spray. In most cases, the bear will break off the charge or veer away. If the bear makes contact, drop to the ground face down on your stomach, with your hands clasped behind your neck and lie still. Make sure the bear is gone before moving.

When camping in the backcountry, hang all food and garbage from food storage poles or bear boxes that are provided at every Yellowstone Park backcountry campsite and some National Forest campsites. Food should be hung at all times except during preparation and consumption.

Game & Fish has pointers

for hunters

• Carry bear deterrent within easy reach and know how to use it. Many aggressive bears have been deterred through the use of bear spray.

• Always hunt with a partner and stay within sight of each other.

• Remain alert and watchful for bear activity. Avoid “tunnel vision” while pursuing game.

• Learn to recognize bear sign such as scat, tracks and diggings.

• Know where seasonal food sources are present and either avoid or be especially cautious in those areas.

• Be aware that the presence of ravens and other scavengers is a good indication that carcasses or entrails are nearby and a bear may be in the area. Avoid these areas if possible.

• Retrieve game animals as quickly as possible and watch for approaching bears when field dressing and quartering.

• If game must be left on the ground overnight, separate the carcass from the entrails when field dressing and place the carcass in an area that can be viewed from a distance.

• Make noise when retrieving game. Use binoculars to search the area for bears and to determine if the game has been disturbed by bears prior to walking in on the carcass.

• Be aware that bears often make day beds near food sources.

• If a bear has claimed your carcass, leave the scene and report the incident to Game & Fish.

For more information, visit the park and forest websites at www.fs.usda.gov/gallatin, www.fs.usda.gov/custer and www.nps.gov/yell.

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