Living with Black Bears
Maine is home to the largest population of black bears in the eastern United States. Our bears are most active between April 1 and November 1.
When natural foods are scarce, especially in the spring or dry summers, bears will venture into backyards and fields in search of easily accessible food such as bird feeders, garbage, grills and pet foods.
While hundreds of conflicts between bears and people are reported each year in Maine, many can be prevented by simply removing or securing common bear attractants. Removing these food sources will also limit other backyard visitors (raccoons, skunks, etc.).
Avoiding bear conflicts and protecting your property from damage
If you feed your pets or livestock outside:
Avoiding bear encounters in the woods, your neighborhood, or backyard.
Bear attacks are very uncommon and bears rarely become aggressive when encountered. However, it’s best to avoid bears by following these simple steps, and to know what to do if an encounter happens.
AVOIDING BEARS WHEN HIKING OR WALKING
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Hike in groups and stay together
- Keep kids within sight
- Keep dogs on a leash or leave them home
- Make noise in thick cover
- Carry bear spray
- Carry a walking stick for defenseWhile
AVOIDING BEARS WHEN CAMPING
- Do not store food in your tent
- Cook as far as possible from your tent
- Clean cooking area thoroughly
- Don’t sleep in clothes you cooked in
- Store food, trash, lotions, toothpaste, and deodorant in:
- vehicle with windows closed
- a bear-proof container
- or suspended in a tree 100 yards from sleeping area
IF YOU ENCOUNTER A BEAR
In the woods
- Do not approach the bear
- Quietly back away and leave the area
In a building, dumpster, or around the corner
- Give the bear a clear escape route (do not corner it)
- Leave any doors open as you back away from the bear
- Do not lock the bear in a room
In your backyard
- From a safe distance, make loud noises, shout, or bang pots and pans together (to scare the bear)
- When the bear leaves, remove potential attractants such as garbage, birdseed, or pet food
- Ask neighbors to remove attractants
IF A BEAR BECOMES AGGRESSIVE AND...
Approaches you or makes noise
- Make yourself look bigger by raising your arms
- Repeat "Hey, bear" while backing away
- Stay together
- Do not run, but continue to back away
Continues to follow you
- Stand your ground, stay together
- Intimidate by making yourself look bigger and making noise (wave arms, shout, clap, bang stick)
- Prepare to fight or use bear spray
- Stand your ground
- Remain calm
- If you have bear spray, dispense in circular motion
Makes contact with you
- Fight back with anything at hand (knife, sticks, rocks, binoculars, backpack, walking stick) or by kicking
Protecting Beehives, Poultry, and Garbage with Electric Fencing
When properly installed, electric fence is safe for people and pets and has been proven to be the most effective tool for deterring bears from getting into bee hives, poultry, and dumpsters. Modern electric energizers are safe for humans, animals, and vegetation. Their quick pulse rate does not produce excess heat which could cause a fire and, while unpleasant if touched, are safe for children and pets. Learn how to construct a safe and effective electric fence for your property (PDF).
You can also prevent bear from getting into beehives (PDF) with proper placement and by harvesting honey as soon as possible after the spring, summer, and fall nectar flows.
The most effective long-term solution to conflicts between people and bears is removing, securing, and properly storing attractants such as bird-feeders, garbage, grills, pet and livestock foods, livestock, and bee hives. Wildlife offices throughout Maine can provide assistance with securing or removing attractants.
Wildlife offices throughout Maine respond to bear sightings only when there is a threat to public safety or property. A sighting or the presence of a bear does not constitute a threat to property or public safety. Typically, no attempt will be made by wildlife agency staff to remove, relocate, or destroy the animal.
Although problem bears can be live trapped by specially trained wildlife professionals and moved to more remote areas, removal is expensive, time consuming, and seldom effective. Once a bear has tasted human food or garbage, it will remember the source and return again and again. Bears have been known to cover more than a hundred miles after relocation to return to a human food source. In addition, using tranquilizing drugs on bears to facilitate removal is not without risks to bears and humans.
When other methods have failed or the bear poses a threat to public safety, lethal removal of problem animals may be the only alternative. You can help prevent lethal removal by following the recommendations presented above.
Contact your regional wildlife office for additional information and, in the case of an immediate emergency, call 911 or the state police.
Public Health Concerns
Bears are not considered a significant source of infectious diseases that can be transmitted to humans or domestic animals. Humans can, however, become infected with trichinosis by eating undercooked bear meat.
To view information on preparing bear meat, see Center for Disease Control & Prevention.
The black bear is classified as a big game animal. A hunting and/or trapping license and bear permit (with the exception of resident deer-hunters during the November firearm season on deer) are required to hunt black bears during a 13-week fall season that opens the last Monday in August and closes the last Saturday in November.
If a bear is causing damage or is a nuisance, consult Maine's laws on this subject: See all sections, particularly Subsection #1: Bears, which applies to the taking or killing of a bear found doing damage.