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Respect for Utah’s bears

A look at black bear biology and staying safe in bear country

Scott is the DWR's conservation outreach manager in central Utah. He works with the public, the media and anyone who has questions about wildlife. He enjoys hunting, fishing and wildlife watching, especially with his kids.

WHEN I WAS A NEW employee with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (more than 20 years ago), I was intrigued by some of the biologists who had a strong passion for black bears and dedicated their lives to bear management. During my career as a conservation outreach manager, I have learned to love and respect the black bears myself.

It’s been a privilege to participate in bear-denning excursions and to assist with various other bear-management activities.

Scott with a black bear cub during a bear-denning trip.

Scott with a black bear cub during a bear-denning trip.

The black bear’s ability to slow down its heart rate and sleep through the winter months is something that has always amazed me. Their hearts will often go 20 seconds between beats during hibernation. By studying this process in bears, some scientists believe they can contribute to human weight-loss improvements and other applications.

Black bears survive on very low oxygen levels during their five- to seven-month hibernation. Scientists say that by developing a better understanding of this, they can improve the treatment of stroke victims who temporarily lose oxygen flow to their brains.

It’s interesting behaviors and facts like this that always keep me fascinated by Utah’s black bears. We can learn so much from them.

Bears have amazing memories and will return to a site repeatedly if they found a meal there in the past.

Bears have amazing memories and will return to a site repeatedly if they found a meal there in the past.

Growing up, we’re surrounded by lighthearted bear cartoons, Winnie the Pooh books, fuzzy teddy bears and other child-friendly images of bears. But it’s important to know the truth about black bears. They’re unpredictable, large and curious, and we need to respect them and know their patterns in order to stay safe in bear country.

Summer is the time of year when black bears search for water and food, and often end up closer to humans. Bears have a remarkable sense of smell, and they love to follow their noses. They have amazing memories and will return to a site repeatedly if they found a meal there in the past. Often times, this routine causes the bear to become aggressive, and that’s when things get dangerous (for you and the bear).

One of the saddest parts of a biologist’s job is euthanizing a bear that becomes accustomed to visiting sloppy campsites in search of food. Although the DWR bear policy allows for certain young, non-aggressive bears to be captured, transported and released, the phrase “A fed bear is a dead bear” is sadly true in many cases.

The key to keeping bears out of your campsite area is cutting down on smells. Store your food and scented items (like deodorant) inside a trailer or in the trunk of your car. Keep your cooking grill clean. Make sure your entire campsite or cabin area is free of food scraps or other garbage. Never, ever feed a bear.

Wondering what else you can do if you encounter a bear while camping or hiking? Read additional tips and precautions online.

3 Responses to Respect for Utah’s bears

  1. leon christensen

    We have bears up on our mnt. property where our cabin is but we have never had a problem with them but people who leave food where bears can easily get to it have had a problem and they need to change their bad habits.

  2. Bears sure are fluffy animals. I know because I’ve petted one before straight out there in the wild. But then the mama bear came and she attacked me but I climbed up a tree but then the branch broke and I broke leg and now I work as a teacher at a super tiny charter school. Sigh.

  3. good example of what not to do! Tilia!

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