Ilion and East Herkimer are both dealing with black bears rummaging around peoples' properties. That might be a bad thing.

It's estimated 6,000 to 8,000 black bears call New York State their home, and some of them are creating headaches for residents and wildlife officials alike.

An uptick in bears have been wandering into places where people frequent, like homes, schools, and campsites. Wildlife experts are worried about bears learning to associate humans with food, because that leads to a potentially tragic ending.

To keep both people and bears safe, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation launched a new educational campaign called BearWise. They outline the steps residents can take to deter hungry bears from invading their yards.

Credit - Jamie Stephens via Facebook
Credit - Jamie Stephens via Facebook

Why are we seeing more bears out in the open?

Bears are naturally curious creatures that tend to be ruled by their stomach. Meaning, if they catch a whiff of something tasty -- like discarded pizza or suet nailed to a tree -- they will likely follow their keen sense of smell in hopes of scoring a quick, easy meal.

And that's what's creating this problem. Because bears are opportunistic eaters, they will choose the path of least resistance when it comes to filling their tummies. And people are, unfortunately, making it all too easy for these massive creatures to enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet of delicious, pre-prepared food.

So much easier than hunting for prey, right?


Bears will rip apart trash cans for the tasty garbage inside or raid a bird feeder to suck down the leftover seeds. They have also broken into houses and cars to steal food.

Unfortunately, that's what makes it so dangerous when bears learn to associate humans with food, because they can become bold, aggressive, and dangerous. Those who are repeatedly caught rummaging around areas they shouldn't are eventually dubbed  "problem bears."

But, if a bear refuses to keep its distance from humans, then euthanasia is put on the table.

How to keep a bear away from your property

New York's DEC encourages residents to be mindful of what bears will see as a food source. Bears are omnivorous and rarely turn their fuzzy snouts up at a free meal.

That being said, residents are strongly encouraged to secure their garbage, recycling and any pet food left outdoors. If your garbage is collected by sanitary workers, then consider purchasing a bear-proof bin and leave it out only during the morning of your collection day.

It is also strongly advised to never leave unsecured food scraps outside. Literally, one man's trash is a black bear's treasure.

Francesco via Unsplash
Francesco via Unsplash

Residents are also encouraged to take down their bird feeders and suet when bears are active.

Another alarming trend is bears tearing apart grills and smokers because they can smell fantastically delicious. Bears will lap up what's left in the grease tray and savor whatever steak or hamburger juices they can glean from the grates.

That being said, residents should clean their outdoor cookers and secure them in a spot where bears cannot easily access.

For you gardeners, compost piles can become a bear smorgasbord. While you shouldn't put meat scraps or fruit rinds into the compost pile, wildlife officials say you can try sprinkling lime on the pile to potentially make it smell less interesting to these creatures.

And for you bee keepers and those with chickens or livestock, look into bear-proofing the areas because they are targets for hungry bears. It's recommended to erect electric fencing and to store feed in an airtight container.

Lastly, don't think bears are starving and need your help to survive. By leaving out food for them to regularly enjoy, you might actually be signing their death certificate.

What to do if you unexpectedly stumble across a bear

While bears look cute and cuddly in photos like this one...

Credit - Denise via WNYT/Facebook
Credit - Denise via WNYT/Facebook

Seeing one up close could be terrifying. Male bears can grow up to 550 pounds while females, called sows, can tip the scales at 300 pounds. Both can grow up to six feet in length.

The first thing you should do is to is stay calm, which might be easier to say than actually do when staring at a massive predator.

From there, you should stay facing the bear while trying to make yourself as large and imposing as possible by waving your arms. You should also be making loud noises to not only encourage the bear to turn tail, but to alert people that you're possibly in danger.

Wildlife experts say you should then start calmly backing away, again facing the bear

Black bear attacks on people are rare, but your goal is to help these animals maintain their healthy fear of humans.

Some bears have been known to "bluff charge," which can be terrifying to witness. What you should do is stand your ground and shout, even though your instincts might be begging you to run.

Obviously, please don't run away, play dead or climb a tree.

Also, consider purchasing bear spray and have it handy whenever you need to head into the woods for camping or hiking.

How to keep bears away from your campsite

Camping is a summertime staple that bears are also learning to enjoy because, unfortunately, some people can be litterbugs.

Others might not know how to make their campsites uninteresting to opportunistic wildlife.

Credit - Think Stock
Credit - Think Stock

Wildlife experts say there are several ways to reduce your chances of inviting a bear onto your grounds. The first step, obviously, is to secure all your trash and make sure you aren't leaving food out in the open.

Secondly, campers are encouraged to cook their meals as far away from their tent as possible.

On the topic of food, never keep food in your tent. Instead, store it in an airtight container in your vehicle or suspend it in a tree at least 10 feet off the ground and six feet away from the trunk.

You should also practice this with the clothes you cook in because they will also smell delicious to wildlife.

What you should do if a bear visits your property

In the rare instance a bear visits your backyard, you have two options: do nothing and wait for the bear to leave or try to scare the bear away with loud noises.

After the bear leaves, wildlife experts say you should check around your home to find what may have attracted the bear and promptly secure it.

From there, report the sighting to your regional DEC office and alert your neighbors so they, too, can take these preventative steps.

Credit - Kaitlyn Moon
Credit - Kaitlyn Moon

You can also check out the DEC's Black Bear response menu to better inform yourself about the best steps to take should problem wildlife take a shining to your backyard.

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