Conservation Department Urges Missourians to Be 'Bear Aware' This Summer
Late spring and early summer are when Missourians are most likely to come across one of the state's estimated 800 black bears - whether crossing the road, on a hiking trail or even in their yard.
Biologist Laura Conlee, furbearer biologist and black bear researcher with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said that's the time when young bears are basically kicked out - and looking for their own place to set up shop.
Plus, it's breeding season, and breeding-age males start to cover a lot of ground.
"Missouri has a growing and expanding bear population," said Conlee. "The bulk of our bear population is really in the southern third of the state, the most forested parts of the Ozarks. But that population's growing and expanding pretty rapidly."
Conlee said if folks encounter bears this season, while hiking or during other outdoor activities, they should put their hands over their heads to make themselves bigger, speak to the bear in a calm voice and back away.
She said it's also key to make sure you're not attracting bears to your yard or campsite with food.
Conlee added that if a bear gets inadvertently fed by humans, it may keep coming back. So she urged folks to bring in bird feeders, outdoor pet food, barbecue grills and any other food source that bears could gain access to.
"They have a really good memory, and they might start to become repetitive in those behaviors," said Conlee. "And, you know, most folks enjoy the sighting of the bear - but when that bear starts coming up and getting into, say, their bees, or their chickens and things like that, and causing damage, that's when those problems can occur."
The Department of Conservation is asking people to report sightings at mdc.mo.gov/reportbears. Conlee said this helps the Department keep tabs on where bears and humans are coming into contact, especially at the periphery of Missouri's bear range.
You can also learn more about bears and other wildlife at the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center, listen to KRCU Public Radio's weekly program "Discover Nature" with host Josh Hartwig, and download the Nature Boost Podcast with host Jill Pritchard.