KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Department of Conservation is reminding residents in the St. Louis region that spring and early summer is the time when bears are on the move.
MDC said it’s common to receive reports of bears in counties like Jefferson, Franklin, Washington and Crawford. However, it was just over a year ago when a male black bear wandered through St. Louis County and into Richmond Heights, where MDC biologists immobilized and safely relocated the bear to an area of suitable bear habitat outside the urban corridor.
MDC said incidents like this area a reminder that black bears are becoming a growing part of the St. Louis regional landscape, even at times in highly populated areas.
MDC’s ongoing bear research indicates Missouri is currently home to around 800 black bears, and that population is growing by 8% each year.
Only one species can be found in the state—the American black bear—though multiple color phases can be found in Missouri other than black, such that a bear’s fur can be brown, red, or cinnamon in color.
Most of the bears are found in the southern part Missouri, according to MDC wildlife biologists, which is where the largest tracts of forested habitat are.
Research also shows the population is expanding, both in total numbers and range, which might explain the uptick in sightings in recent years. As the population grows and expands, bears are showing up in areas further north.
Additionally, late spring/ early summer is prime time for bears to be on the move. Young bears begin to wander seeking food and new areas to settle and adult males begin moving large distances in search of females, according to MDC.
MDC suggests the following tips to avoid issues if a bear has been sighted in the area.
• Store garbage, recyclables, and compost inside a secure building or in a bear-proof container or location.
• Regularly clean and disinfect trash containers to minimize smells that could attract bears.
• Keep grills and smokers clean and store them inside.
• Don’t leave pet food outside. Feed pets a portion at each meal and remove the empty containers.
• Refrain from using birdfeeders in bear country from April through November. If in use, hang them at least 10 feet high and 4 feet away from any structure. Keep in mind that even if a bear cannot get to the birdseed, the scent could still attract it to the area.
• Use electric fencing to keep bears away from beehives, chicken coops, vegetable gardens, orchards, and other potential food sources.
These measures will also reduce problems with more common critters like raccoons and coyotes.
While black bears are generally a shy, non-aggressive species and bear attacks are rare throughout their range in North America, MDC offers these tips to stay safe when hiking and camping in bear country:
• Never deliberately offer a bear food!
• Keep campsites clean and store all food, toiletries, and trash in a secure vehicle or strung high between two trees.
• Do not keep food or toiletries in a tent, and do not burn or bury garbage or food waste.
• Make noise, such as clapping, singing, or talking loudly, while hiking to prevent surprising a bear.
• Travel in a group if possible.
• Keep dogs leashed.
• If hiking or camping in bear country, consider carrying bear spray. Read the instructions carefully and keep bear spray immediately available on your belt or your pack’s waist strap, not buried inside your pack.
• Be aware of surroundings. If there are signs of a bear, such as tracks or scat, avoid the area.
• Leave bears alone! Do not approach them, and make sure they have an escape route.