Missouri hikers, campers encouraged to become more bear aware

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. — The number of black bears found in Missouri is growing and so are the chances your family might encounter one of them while hiking, fishing, floating, or camping.

Families are vacationing closer to home this summer and spending more time out in nature.

The black bear is one of the largest wild mammals found in Missouri and is known as a long-distance roamer constantly in search of food. We were reminded of that when a bear named “Bruno” by fans, migrated his way through the St. Louis region in July 2020.

The Missouri Department of Conservation says the state is now home to between 500 and 900 black bears and that numbers are increasing each year. They are mostly found south of the Missouri River, primarily south of Interstate 44.

While black bears usually avoid encounters with people, their growing numbers mean sightings are becoming more common. So far in 2020, the conservation department has received nearly 250 bear reports according to Laura Conlee, the State Furbearer Biologist.

So, we need to be more bear aware. If you are hiking or camping and there is evidence of a bear in the area, such as tracks or scat, avoid the area. Make noises such as clapping, singing or talking loudly to prevent surprising a bear. Travel in a group if possible and keep dogs leashed.

Remember, bears spend most of their time searching for food. Never approach or feed a bear. Properly store food while camping and throw waste away in bear proof containers. Don’t leave pet food outside. Keep grills and smokers clean. And don’t use birdfeeders if you live in bear country from April through November.  

If you are planning on hiking with your kids, pick up some bells and yarn at your favorite craft store and make your own bear bells for your trip. It’s a great way to let bears and other wildlife know you are coming, and kids will love making their own and tying them to the family backpack.

For more information on Missouri black bears, visit mdc.mo.gov/bearaware.

Report bear sightings online:  mdc.mo.gov/reportbears.

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