Be bear-safe at home & in the woods

by Kate Evans

West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania wildlife officials get calls about nuisance bears every year in the spring and early summer. Nuisance calls are always related to bears looking for food.  Bear-proof your home to keep black bears away.  Be watchful for bears when you’re outdoors.

Bears come around when people leave bird seed in a container on the porch or leave bowls of pet food or bags of garbage outside.  Bears can be attracted by someone cooking inside their home and the smell of food wafting out the window.

Bears climb on decks or porches, tear down bird feeders or hummingbird feeders, turn over charcoal grills, dump garbage cans and rip up trash bags or try to break into sheds or garages where dog food is stored. Once they find a food source they keep coming back until it’s gone, officials say.

Black bears naturally feed on nuts, berries, cherries, acorns, seeds, grasses and roots, but also eat insects and small mammals.

What to do

Stop feeding the bears.  Keep pet food inside where the bears can’t see or smell it.  Avoid feeding pets outdoors.  Take down hummingbird feeders if a bear is coming around.

Secure trash in tamper-proof containers and put ammonia-soaked rags around garbage to keep bears away. Keep trash inside buildings if you can.

Wash food cans before putting them in the trash.  Clean garbage cans regularly with bleach or ammonia. Put out garbage the morning of trash pick-up.

Keep compost piles away from your home if you use one. Turn the pile often to limit the odor. Cover it with lime or wood ash to lessen the smell and speed decomposition and top with leaf mulch.

Remove bird feeders in the spring and don’t put them up until late fall. Clean outdoor grills of grease and food after each use and secure them.

A nuisance bear situation can usually be resolved by removing the food source.  If people still have problems after taking away the food, they should call wildlife officials. The bear will have to be trapped and euthanized.

For help

If you’re having nuisance bear problems, call the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources at 304-822-3551, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources at 1-877-463-6497, the Pennsylvania Game Commission Southcentral Region Office at 814-643-1831 or your local law enforcement office.



BearWise tips which were created by bear biologists include:

If hiking, stay together and keep kids nearby and in sight.  Make noise from time to time so bears will avoid you.  Be aware of your surroundings.


Keep your dogs leashed at all times when hiking or walking or leave them at home.

Don’t leave any food scraps or wrappers that will help bears associate food with a hiking trail.  Double bag all your food and pack it all out with you.

If camping, cook at least 100 yards from your tent.  Don’t store food, trash, clothes worn when cooking or toiletries in your tent.

Hunters and fishermen are more prone to encounter bears because they’re out in early morning and late evening when bears are most active.  Be aware that carcasses, gut piles and bait can attract bears.

Carry bear spray and know how to use it.

Bear encounters

If you encounter a bear, make a lot of noise to scare it away.  Hit some pots and pans and yell and they’ll generally run.  Give them a wide berth because they can be potentially dangerous. Don’t intimidate them or get too close. A bear that feels cornered can attack.

Back away and leave the area. Don’t turn and run.  Don’t try to go after them or hit them with a stick. It’s very rare for black bear to attack people, but it’s becoming more frequent.  Bear sightings have become more commonplace.  Be alert for bears when outdoors.