Be Aware › Bears
Welcome to black bear country
Some things you should know about bears
Help reduce conflict with bears by not feeding wildlife and keeping a clean camp.
Black bears, Ursus americanus, are currently the only bear species in Utah. Thousands of bears live in Utah’s mountains and forests, often in the same places humans enjoy living, camping and being outdoors.
Black bears aren’t always black — their color can vary from white to every shade of brown.
Most of Utah’s bears (80%) are found at elevations between 7,000–10,000 feet, although there are also some significant bear populations in lower elevations around the state. Bears generally prefer rugged terrain and forested areas, but will travel long distances and outside of their usual wild habitats to find food.
Denning and hibernation in black bears evolved as a means of adapting to winter food shortages. Dens also provide a protected area for female bears to give birth and raise cubs. In much of Utah, bears begin denning in the fall — late October for females and mid-November for males — and emerge from their dens in April or May.
Bears will eat almost anything. Their foraged diet includes grasses, nuts, flowering plants, shrubs, berries and other fruit. Meat makes up less than 10% of a typical black bear’s diet, and most of that is scavenged carcasses and insects, especially ants and ant larvae.
The likelihood of conflicts with bears increases during drought years when a bear’s normal food supply is decreased, leading them to seek alternate food sources.
How to prevent incidents with bears
Bears have an amazing sense of smell, and they have no problem eating the same type of foods that people eat. As a result, many of the conflicts between people and bears happen because the bears start scavenging for food that humans are eating and cooking in the bear’s natural habitat.
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 euthanized. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect both you and the bear.
Preventing bear conflicts at your home or cabin
Utah is bear country, and especially so if you live in the foothills or other mountainous parts of the state. It is important to properly secure or clean yard items that may attract a bear.
- Dispose of trash carefully. Store trash in a secure location or bear-safe container, put your trash out for pickup in the morning (not the previous night) and clean your trash containers regularly.
- Secure or remove food sources that attract wildlife, such as bird feeders, barbeque grills and unclean utensils, pet food and water bowls, unattended pets (especially at night), and unfenced fruit trees, garden plots, compost piles and beehives.
- If bears persist, consider deterrents such as electric fencing, placing bear unwelcome mats (e.g., wood planks with nails or screws protruding) in front of doors or windows, installing motion-activated lights or noisemakers, having one or more dogs, and turning on garden hoses or sprinklers. 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.
- If a bear enters your yard, give it an obvious escape route — do not corner it.
Preventing bear conflicts while recreating
Black bears usually avoid contact with people, but encounters in Utah’s woods and mountains are not uncommon. If a bear does make its way to the area where you’re staying, if it isn’t rewarded with food, it will likely move on.
Bear proof container at campsite: Center for Wildlife Information
- Take precautions while hiking by going with a group (if possible), keeping kids in the center of your group and making noise as you travel through dense cover.
- Be alert at dawn and dusk (when bears are more active) and stay away from animal carcasses.
- Keep a clean camp by not leaving food out when you’re not eating, disposing of all trash in bear-proof dumpsters (if available), wiping down picnic tables and burning off stoves or grills.
- Never keep food, drinks or scented items — such as deodorant, sunscreen and toothpaste — in your tent. Store these items in airtight bags and put them in your vehicle, a bear-safe container or hang high off the ground from a tree limb.
- If you see a bear, never approach or feed it. Report any bear sightings to your campground host.
- When camping in the backcountry, pitch tents away from trails and always sleep inside your tent.
if you encounter a bear
- Know bear behavior. If a black bear stands up, grunts, woofs, moans or makes other sounds, it’s not being aggressive. These are ways a black bear gets a better look or smell and expresses its interest.
- Stand your ground. Never back up, lie down or play dead with a black bear. Make yourself look bigger by raising your arms and standing tall. Stay calm and give the bear a chance to leave. Be prepared to use 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.
If a bear attacks
- Use bear spray, then immediately leave the area. Studies have shown bear spray to be 92% successful in deterring bear attacks.
- If you feel like you are in imminent danger of an attack, you are allowed by Utah law to protect yourself (up to, and including, killing the bear). If you use a firearm, shoot to kill, aiming at the center of the bear and firing until it is no longer a threat. Notify the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources immediately.
- Always fight back, and don’t give up! People have successfully defended themselves with almost anything: rocks, sticks, backpacks, water bottles and even their hands and feet.
If you have an encounter with aggressive wildlife, please report it to the nearest Utah Division of Wildlife Resources office. If the encounter or sighting 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.
- Download flyer: Welcome to Bear Country (PDF)
- Download Learn how to Identify Bear Sign, Identify Damage and Conflict Prevention (PDF)
- Download Bear Biology and Ecology from UDWR (PDF)
Carry bear spray when recreating and learn how to use it properly.
- Download Bear Spray User Guide form Center for Wildlife Information (PDF)
- Download Bear Spray Poster (PDF)