People & Bears
Even though thousands of bears live in Idaho, people seldom see these shy "shadows of the forest" unless they are careless about their garbage or they hunt. In 1990, more than 15,000 hunters searched for black bear in Idaho; around 2,000 hunters find a bear each year. Wildlife managers monitor bears that live in hunting areas to make sure that the bear population can withstand the hunting. They also keep watch on how much bear habitat is lost each year and report that habitat loss is the biggest problem that bears face.
Bears, like all wild animals, must share most of their habitat with humans. People enter bear habitat to hike, ride horses, fish, hunt, ski, and snowmobile. They also cut timber, graze cows and sheep, and operate mines in the same forests where black bears live.
Biologists and wildlife managers strive to understand how bears use their habitat and how they react to human presence. For example, by studying how bears use logged forests, biologists and managers can recommend logging practices that have less impact on bears. They have learned that bears continue feeding in fields rich with berries if logging ceases during this time. Bears are more likely to return to a disturbed area if it is small, irregularly shaped and trees are left along streams, roads, and north slopes.
Managers also know that bears are better off if logging roads are closed instead of remaining open to provide people with new routes to hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking areas. Bears also lose habitat when people build homes along lakes and in forests. As people build, their roads cut off bear travel routes, break up home ranges, and destroy natural sources of food. People also provide new sources of food with ornamental shrubs and vegetable gardens, bee hives, pet food, and garbage.
Tips For Sharing the Bear's Forests
- For homeowners:
- Do not feed bears.
- Keep home sites free of food and litter.
- For recreationists:
- Keep a clean camp.
- Warn bears of your presence by making noise when traveling in dense cover.
It should be no surprise that bears sometimes appear on people's property and will take advantage of that easy food.
Unfortunately, people often become upset if the bears actually come onto their property. Wildlife managers will trap the bear and try to relocate it.
Sometimes the bear remains in its new home; often it returns, traveling as far as 50 miles. If a bear continues to enter private property to find easy food, wildlife managers may have to kill it. They warn property owners that "feeding a bear equals killing a bear."
Bears are highly intelligent and can learn new behavior in reaction to a single experience. For example, bears can be trained to stay away from an apiarist's bee hives even after they have discovered this easy source of food. How? The apiarist erects an electric fence around the hives. One brief jolt from the fence, and the bear knows the easy food source is gone. Some biologists are experimenting with other such aversive conditioning to help bears learn to stay away from people's homes and gardens.
Can Idaho's growing human population coexist with bears? Idaho has a healthy black bear population now, but if the population declines, it will be slow to build up again because bears are long-lived, mature late, and produce only one or two cubs every other year. Such a decline won't happen if everyone in Idaho works to ensure that both bears and people can continue to thrive in Idaho.
People can learn how to maintain their houses and yards so there is less temptation for bears. People can also learn that the sight of a bear on their property is something to be treasured. Our lives are richer when we share the land with wild creatures and black bears are one of Idaho's wildest wonders.