Bears are becoming more common in Missouri. Here are a few expert tips to remember.

·3 min read

Black bears are becoming more commonplace as their populations grow, and there's a few things conservation officials want you to know.

Furbearer and Black Bear Biologist Nate Bowersock along with Science Branch Section Chief Laura Conlee shared their insights into being bear aware during a Missouri Department of Conservation webcast earlier this month. (The full webcast can be found here.)

Conlee previously told the News-Leader that folks need to start thinking of Missouri as "bear country." That state remains true Missouri's bear population is part of a larger population with more than 5,000 in the Ozarks and the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas and 2,000-plus statewide in Oklahoma.

More: 'We have to think about Missouri as bear country,' biologist says

With those higher numbers, bear range is expanding, per the webcast presentation. More Missourians may be seeing bears, and there's a few things they should know if or when they encounter these animals.

A black bear sow sniffs the air for danger in Forsyth.
A black bear sow sniffs the air for danger in Forsyth.

What to know about bears

What do black bears eat?

They are omnivorous, but mostly vegetarian, eating berries, insects, carrion, deer fawns and more. Black bears are attracted to bird and wildlife feeders, garbage and barbecue grills.

Where do black bears live?

Preferring to live in heavily wooded forest, black bears stick to less populated places. However, they are capable to using suburban areas as long as there's sufficient green space for cover and habitat connectivity, per the webcast presentation.

What about black bear reproduction?

Black bears tend to breed in the summer months of June and July when females mature around 3.5 years old. One to four cubs are born around February while females are in a den. They will stay with their mothers for about 18 months with the males then traveling long distances and females staying close to the mother's range.

What to do if you're in bear country or encounter a bear

"A fed bear is a dead bear," Bowersock and Conlee agreed during the webcast.

Never approach or feed bears. You should remove all food sources, including:

  • Secure food and garbage

  • Remove bird feeders

  • Never leave pet food out

  • Clean or store grills and smokers

People should think of bears as "large racoons," the experts said, because bears are also highly attracted to human-associated foods such as: trash, compost, grills and smokers, pet food, livestock and feed, and beehives.

Let your neighbors know if you see a bear in your yard. You can make loud noises by banging pots and pans or using an air horn. After the bear leaves, remove any food sources.

If you encounter a bear, you should:

  • Talk to the bear in a calm voice

  • Back away, but do not run

  • Raise your arms to appear larger

  • Give the bear an escape route

While camping and hiking, remember:

  • To travel in groups or make noise while hiking

  • Keep food secure

  • Keep cooking and sleeping areas separate

  • Carry bear spray, but know how to use it

While hunting in bear country, you should:

  • Keep a clean camp

  • Alert bears of your presence

  • Bears may explore tree stands out of curiosity, not aggression

  • Alert it of your presence immediately

The Hollister Police Department shared this photo of a young black bear roaming around the city.
The Hollister Police Department shared this photo of a young black bear roaming around the city.

How to report bear sightings

The MDC officials said bears can be spotted anywhere, while citing an Associated Press article of a juvenile black bear being tranquilized after roaming St. Louis suburbs.

When you see a bear, you can report the sighting on the MDC website under Bear Aware or at https://mdc.mo.gov/wildlife/report-wildlife-sightings/bear-reports/report-bear-sighting. To learn more about being bear aware, visit https://bearwise.org/.

Sara Karnes is an Outdoors Reporter with the Springfield News-Leader. Follow along with her adventures on Twitter and Instagram @Sara_Karnes. Got a story to tell? Email her at skarnes@springfi.gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: As Missouri bears become more common, what to know if you see one