Be Aware › Bears
Welcome to Black Bear Country
If you’re going camping in Utah, here are some things you should know about bears:
Did You Know?
- Black bears are currently the only bear found in Utah.
- Black bears aren’t always black — their color can vary from white to black to every shade of brown.
- Meat makes up less than 10 percent of a typical black bear’s diet, and much of that is scavenged carcasses and insects. The rest of its diet is typically nuts, berries, grasses and other plants.
- Black bears can live 25 years or more in the wild.
- A typical female black bear weighs 120 to 150 pounds, while an average male is 180 to 300 pounds. The largest male on record weighed 880 pounds.
Black bears are Utah’s largest predators. Thousands of them live in our forests and mountains — often in the same places we like to camp, hike and build our houses. This poses a safety concern for both humans and bears.
If a bear obtains food from a home or campsite — even once — it may become aggressive in future attempts. This almost guarantees the bear will have to be destroyed. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect both you and the bear.
Bears do what in the woods?
Camp and Hike Responsibly
Sloppy campers and hikers don’t just endanger themselves, but also future visitors. Bears have amazing memories; they will return to a site repeatedly if they ate there at some point in the past.
When in bear country, you should:
- Maintain a bear-safe campsite
- Store food, drinks and scented items securely (in your vehicle, a bear-safe container or tree — never in your tent)
- Dispose of trash in bear-proof dumpsters, if available
- Wipe down picnic tables
- Burn off stoves or grills
- Pitch tents away from trails in the backcountry
- Always sleep inside your tent
- Never approach or feed a bear
- Report bear sightings to your campground host
- Take precautions while hiking
- Stay alert at dawn and dusk, when bears are more active
- Go with a group, if possible
- Make noise as you travel through dense cover
- Stay away from animal carcasses
- Store food, trash and scented items (such as sunscreen) in airtight plastic bags
- Keep kids in the center of the group
Remember, bears search for food — wherever they can.
Protect Your Property
If a bear enters your yard, give it an obvious escape route — do not corner it. Black bears can quickly inflict thousands of dollars in property damage. You can reduce or eliminate visits from bears if you:
- Dispose of trash carefully
- Store trash in a secure location or bear-safe container
- Put your trash out for pick-up in the morning, not the previous night
- Clean your trash container regularly
- Use deterrents
- Put up electric fencing
- Place bear unwelcome mats (e.g., wood planks with nails or screws protruding) in front of doors or windows
- Install motion-activated lights or noisemakers
- Get one or more dogs
- Turn on garden hoses or sprinklers
- Spray the bear with bear spray
Black bears usually avoid contact with people, but encounters in Utah’s woods and mountains are not uncommon.
If You Encounter A Bear
- Stand your ground. Never back up, lie down or play dead. Stay calm and give the bear a chance to leave. Prepare to use your bear spray or another deterrent.
- Don’t run away or climb a tree. Black bears are excellent climbers and can run up to 35 miles per hour — you cannot outclimb or outrun them.
- Know bear behavior. If a bear stands up, grunts, woofs, moans or makes other sounds, it’s not being aggressive. These are ways a bear gets a better look or smell and expresses its interest.
If A Bear Attacks
- Use bear spray. Then leave the area. Studies have shown bear spray to be 92 percent successful in deterring bear attacks.
- Shoot to kill. If you use a firearm, never fire a warning shot — aim for the center of the bear and keep firing until it is dead. Notify the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources immediately.
- Always fight back. And never give up! People have successfully defended themselves with almost anything: rocks, sticks, backpacks, water bottles and even their hands and feet.
Black bear sign, Identifying Damage and Conflict Prevention
Black bears can have black, brown, reddish brown, cinnamon or white coats.
Black bears are currently the only bear found in Utah.
Bears have five toes. A black bear’s front paw claws are short but can be visible in the track. Tracks may be 5 inches to 7 inches long.
The scat varies based on what the bear is eating at a particular time of year. It may be full of insect parts, hair, bone or seeds and grasses.
Look for flipped rocks or shredded logs where a bear has been searching for grubs and insects. Bears will sometimes strip the bark off trees. Look for claw marks or clumps of hair on the bark of trees.
Black Bear Damage
Black bears may cause damage to property in their search for food and shelter. Damage can include trampling gardens, tearing up grass or compost piles, destroying beehives, foraging in garbage cans or dumpsters, tearing down birdfeeders, breaking into cabins or campsites and food caches.
Remove Attractants First:
- Unsecured trash
- Hummingbird feeders
- Unfenced fruit trees
- Compost piles
- Bee hives
- Pet food and water bowls
- Unsupervised pets (especially at night)
- Barbecue grills
- Uncleaned utensils or dishes
- Unsecured food, coolers or camp boxes
- Highly scented bath products
Bears have an incredible sense of smell. If they think they smell a food source, they will investigate.
Do not leave food out to deliberately attract bears or other animals.
Below are some images of bear deterrents.
Bear “unwelcome mats” are wood planks with protruding screws or nails. Place under windows or in doorways. Install electric fencing around gardens, beehives, etc.
Black bears can be frightened away from backyards, orchards etc. by the use of motion sensor lights, strobe lights, loud music or sounds, scarecrows or dogs. The position of frightening devices and lights should be moved frequently.
Note: Some of these techniques may not be suitable for urban areas. Always check with local authorities to ensure that you are using a legal deterrent.
Electric fence around beehives: Scott E. Hygnstrom, Extension Wildlife Damage Specialist School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Carry bear spray when recreating and learn how to use it properly.
Bear proof dumpsters and garbage cans
These can be built at home or purchased from stores or online.
Bear proof food storage containers
These can be purchased at outdoor recreation stores or rented online. Bear-proof lockers are provided at some parks and campsites. Please use these lockers or dumpsters when provided.
Bear safe camping
Keep a clean, odor-free camp and picnic site. Set up the cooking and eating area and keep food, trash and scented toiletries 100 yards from the sleeping area.
Bear proof container at campsite: Center for Wildlife Information
Do not store food or toiletries inside your tent.
Photos credit to Alberta Bear Smart, Government of Alberta and Parks Canada
If you see a bear in a residential area or you encounter an aggressive bear, please contact the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources immediately. If the encounter occurs after hours or on the weekend, please call your local police department or county sheriff’s office, who can contact a conservation officer to handle the situation.