Black Bear Control

Controlling Black Bears: Trapping, Removal, and Prevention

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Black Bears

Black Bear Facts


The black bear (Ursus americanus) is the smallest and most widely distributed of the North American bears. Adults typically weigh 100 to 400
pounds (45 to 182 kg) and measure from 4 to 6 feet (120 to 180 cm) long. Some adult males attain weights of over 600 pounds (270 kg). They are massive and strongly built animals. Black bears east of the Mississippi are predominantly black, but in the Rocky Mountains and westward various shades of brown, cinnamon, and even blond are common. The head is moderately sized with a straight profile and tapering nose. The ears are relatively small, rounded, and erect. The tail is short (3 to 6 inches [8 to 15 cm]) and inconspicuous. Each foot has five curved claws about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long that are non-retractable. Bears walk with a shuffling gait, but can be quite agile and quick when necessary. For short distances, they can run up to 35 miles per hour (56 km/hr). They are quite adept at climbing trees and are good swimmers. It is important to be able to distinguish between black bears and grizzly/ brown bears (Ursus arctos). The grizzly/ brown bear is typically much larger than the black bear, ranging from 400 to 1,300 pounds (180 to 585 kg). Its guard hairs have whitish or silvery tips, giving it a frosted or “grizzly” appearance. Grizzly/brown bears have a pronounced hump over the shoulder; a shortened, often dished face; relatively small ears; and long claws (Fig. 2).


Black bears historically ranged throughout most of North America except for the desert southwest and the treeless barrens of northern Canada. They still occupy much of their original range with the exception of the Great Plains, the midwestern states, and parts of the eastern and southern coastal states (Fig. 3). Black bear and grizzly/brown bear distributions overlap in the Rocky Mountains, Western Canada, and Alaska. Fig. 2.

Characteristics of black bears and grizzly/brown bears.

Black bear
No prominent shoulder hump
Straight muzzle
Short curved claws
Chunky build
Adult male 250 pounds
Adult female 150 pounds

Grizzly/Brown bear
Prominent shoulder hump
Dishface (long upturned muzzle)
Long claws
Massive head
Less robust build
Adult male 450 pounds


Black bears frequent heavily forested areas, including large swamps and mountainous regions. Mixed hardwood forests interspersed with streams and swamps are typical habitats. Highest growth rates are achieved in eastern deciduous forests where
there is an abundance and variety of foods. Black bears depend on forests for their seasonal and yearly requirements of food, water, cover, and space.

Food Habits

Black bears are omnivorous, foraging on a wide variety of plants and animals. Their diet is typically determined by the seasonal availability of food. Typical foods include grasses, berries, nuts, tubers, wood fiber, insects, small mammals, eggs, carrion,
and garbage. Food shortages occur occasionally in northern bear ranges when summer and fall mast crops (berries and nuts) fail. During such years, bears become bolder and travel more widely in their search for food. Human encounters with bears are more frequent during such years, as are complaints of crop damage and livestock losses. Fig. 3.

Range of the black bear in North America.
Adult female 250 pounds C-7 General Biology, Reproduction, and Behavior

Black bears typically are nocturnal, although occasionally they are active during the day. In the South, black bears tend to be active year-round; but in northern areas, black bears undergo a period of semihibernation during winter. Bears spend this period of dormancy in dens, such as hollow logs, windfalls, brush piles, caves, and holes dug into the ground. Bears in northern areas may remain in their dens for 5 to 7 months, foregoing food, water, and elimination. Most cubs are born between late December and early February, while the female is still denning. Black bears breed during the summer months, usually in late June or early July. Males travel extensively in search of receptive females. Both sexes are promiscuous. Fighting occurs between rival males as well as between males and unreceptive females. Dominant females may suppress the breeding activities of subordinate females. After mating, the fertilized egg does not implant immediately, but remains unattached in the uterus until fall. Females in good condition will usually produce 2 or 3 cubs that weigh 7 to 12 ounces (198 to 340 g) at birth. After giving birth, the sow may continue her winter sleep while the cubs are awake and nursing. Lactating females do not come into estrus, so females generally breed only every other year. Parental care is solely the female’s responsibility. Males will kill and eat cubs if they have the opportunity. Cubs are weaned in late summer but usually remain close to the female throughout their first year. This social unit breaks up when the female comes into her next estrus. After the breeding season, the female and her yearlings may travel together for a few weeks. Black bears become sexually mature at approximately 3 1/2 years of age, but some females may not breed until their fourth year or later.

In North America, black bear densities range from 0.3 to 3.4 bears per square mile (0.1 to 1.3 bears/km2). Densities are highest in the Pacific Northwest because of the high diversity of habitats and long foraging season. The home range of black bears is dependent on the type and quality of the habitat and the sex and age of the bear. In mountainous regions, bears encounter a variety of habitats by moving up or down in elevation. Where the terrain is flatter, bears typically range more widely in search of food, water,
cover, and space. Most adult females have well-defined home ranges that vary from 6 to 19 square miles (15 to 50 km2). Ranges of adult males are usually several times larger.

Black bears are powerful animals that have few natural enemies. Despite their strength and dominant position, they are remarkably tolerant of humans. Interactions between people and black bears are usually benign. When surprised or protecting cubs, a black bear will threaten the intruder by laying back its ears, uttering a series of huffs, chopping its jaws, and stamping its feet. This may be followed by a charge, but in most instances it is only a bluff, as the bear will advance only a few yards (m) before stopping. There are very few cases where a black bear has charged and attacked a human.

Usually people are unaware that bears are even in the vicinity. Most bears will avoid people, except bears that have learned to associate food with people. Food conditioning occurs most often at garbage dumps, campgrounds, and sites where people
regularly feed bears. Habituated, foodconditioned bears pose the greatest threat to humans (Herrero 1985, Kolenosky and trathearn 1987).

Damage and Damage Identification

Damage caused by black bears is quite diverse, ranging from trampling sweet corn fields and tearing up turf to destroying beehives and even (rarely) killing humans. Black bears are noted for nuisance problems such as scavenging in garbage cans, breaking in
and demolishing the interiors of cabins, and raiding camper’s campsites and food caches. Bears also become a nuisance when they forage in garbage dumps and landfills.

Black bears are about the only animals, besides skunks, that molest beehives. Evidence of bear damage includes broken and scattered combs and hives showing claw and tooth marks. Hair, tracks, scats, and other sign may be found in the immediate area. A bear will usually use the same path to return every night until all of the brood, comb, and honey are eaten.

Field crops such as corn and oats are also damaged occasionally by hungry black bears. Large, localized areas of broken, smashed stalks show where bears have fed in cornfields. Bears eat the entire cob, whereas raccoons strip the ears from the stalks and chew the kernels from the ears. Black bears prefer corn in the milk stage.

Bears can cause extensive damage to trees, especially in second-growth forests, by feeding on the inner bark or by clawing off the bark to leave territorial markings. Black bears damage orchards by breaking down trees and branches in their attempts to reach fruit. They will often return to an orchard nightly once feeding starts. Due to the perennial nature of orchard damage, losses can be economically significant.

Few black bears learn to kill livestock, but the behavior, once developed, usually persists. The severity of black bear
predation makes solving the problem very important to the individuals who suffer the losses. If bears are suspect, look for deep tooth marks (about 1/2 inch [1.3 cm] in diameter) on the neck directly behind the ears. On large animals, look for large claw marks
(1/2 inch [1.3 cm] between individual marks) on the shoulders and sides. Bear predation must be distinguished from coyote or dog attacks. Coyotes typically attack the throat region. Dogs chase their prey, often slashing the hind legs and mutilating the animal.
Tooth marks on the back of the neck are not usually found on coyote and dog kills. Claw marks are less prominent on coyote or dog kills, if present at all. C-8 Different types of livestock behave differently when attacked by bears. Sheep tend to bunch up when
approached. Often three or more will be killed in a small area. Cattle have a tendency to scatter when a bear approaches. Kills usually consist of single animals. Hogs can evade bears in the open and are more often killed when confined. Horses are rarely
killed by bears, but they do get clawed on the sides. After an animal is killed, black bears will typically open the body cavity and
remove the internal organs. The liver and other vital organs are eaten first, followed by the hindquarters. Udders of lactating females are also preferred. When a bear makes a kill, it usually returns to the site at dusk. Bears prefer to feed alone. If an animal is killed in
the open, the bear may drag it into the woods or brush and cover the remains with leaves, grass, soil, and forest debris. The bear will periodically return to this cache site to feed on the decomposing carcass.

Black bears occasionally threaten human health and safety. Dr. Stephen Herrero documented 500 injuries to humans resulting from encounters with black bears from 1960 to 1980 (Herrero 1985). Of these, 90% were minor injuries (minor bites, scratches, and bruises). Only 23 fatalities due to black bear attacks were recorded from 1900 to 1980. These are remarkably low numbers, considering the geographic overlap of human and black bear populations. Ninety percent of all incidents were likely associated with habituated, food-conditioned bears.

Legal Status

In the early 1900s, black bears were classified as nuisance or pest species because of agricultural depredations. Times have changed and bear distributions and populations have diminished because of human activity. Many states, such as Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wisconsin, manage the black bear as a big game animal. Most other states either consider black bears as not present or completely protect the species. In most western states, livestock owners and property owners may legally kill bears that are killing livestock, damaging property, or threatening human safety. Several states require a permit before removing a bear when the damage situation is not acute. In states where complete protection is required, the state wildlife agency or USDA-APHIS-ADC will usually offer prompt service when a problem occurs. The problem bear will be livetrapped
and moved, killed, and/or compensation for damage offered. In a life-threatening situation, the bear can be shot, but proof of jeopardy may be required to avoid a citation for illegal killing.

Damage Prevention and Control Methods


Fencing has proven effective in deterring bears from landfills, apiaries, cabins, and other high-value properties. Fencing, however, is a relatively expensive abatement measure. Consider the extent, duration, and expense of damage when developing a prevention
program. Numerous fence designs have been used with varying degrees of success. Electric fence chargers increase ffectiveness.
Depending on the amount of bear pressure, use an electric polytape portable fence (Fig. 4), or a weldedwire permanent fence (Fig. 5).

Fence Energizing System and Maintenance.

To energize the fences, use a 110-volt outlet or 12-volt deep cell (marine) battery connected to a high-output fence charger. Place the fence charger and battery in a case or empty beehive to protect them against weather and theft. Drive a ground rod 5 to 7 feet (1.5 to 2.1 m) into the ground, preferably into moist soil. Connect the ground terminal of the charger to the ground rod with a wire and ground clamp. Connect the positive fence terminal to the fence with a short piece of fence wire. Use connectors to ensure good contact. Electric fences must deliver an effective shock to repel bears. Bears can be lured into licking or sniffing the wire by attaching attractants (salmon or tuna tins and bacon rinds) to the fence. Grounding may be increased, especially in dry, sandy soil, by laying grounded chicken wire around the outside perimeter of the electric fence.

Check the fence voltage each week at a distance from the fence charger; it should yield at least 3,000 volts. To protect against voltage loss, keep the battery and fence charger dry and their connections free of corrosion. Make certain all connections are secure
and check for faulty insulators (arcing between wire and post). Also clip vegetation beneath the fence. Each month, check the fence tension and replace baits with new salmon tins and bacon rinds. Always recharge the batteries during the day so that the fence
is energized at night. Black bears are strong enough to tear open doors, rip holes in siding, and break glass windows to gain access to food stored inside cabins, tents, and other structures. Use solid frame construction, 3/4-inch (2-cm) plywood
sheeting, and strong, tight-fitting shutters and doors. Steel plating is more impervious than wood.

Bear-proof containers are available for campers in a variety of sizes. They can be used to safely store food and other bear attractants during backpacking trips or other outdoor excursions. In the absence of bear-proof containers, store food in airtight containers and suspend them by rope between two tall trees that are at least 100 yards (100 m) downwind of your campsite. Food, supplies, and beehives can be stored 15 to 20 feet (4 to 6 m) above ground on elevated platforms or bear poles. Support poles should be at least 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter and wrapped with a 4-foot-wide (1.4-m) piece of galvanized sheet metal, 6 to 7 feet (2 m) above ground. You can also place one or two hives on a flat or lowsloping garage roof. Be sure to add extra roof braces because two hives full of honey can weigh 800 pounds C-9 Gate handles Guy wire Ground rod Beehive Insulator (360 kg) or more. An innovative technique for beekeepers is to place hives on a fenced (three-strand electric) flatbed trailer (8 feet x 40 feet [2.4 m x 12.2 m]). Though expensive, this method makes hives less vulnerable to bear damage and makes moving them very easy.

Cultural Methods

Prevention is the best method of controlling black bear damage. Sanitation and proper solid waste management are key considerations. Store food, organic wastes, and other bear attractants in bear-proof containers. Use garbage cans for nonfood items only. Implement regular garbage pickup and practice incineration. Reduce access to landfills through fencing, and
bury refuse daily. Eliminate garbage dumps. Place livestock pens and beehives at least 50 yards (50 m) away from wooded areas and protective cover. Confine livestock in buildings and pens, especially during lambing or calving seasons. Remove carcasses
from the site and dispose of them by rendering or deep burial. Plant susceptible crops (corn, oats, fruit) away from areas of protective cover. Pick and remove all fruit from orchard trees. Remove protective cover from a radius of 50 yards (50 m) around occupied buildings and residences. Locate campgrounds, campsites, and hiking trails in areas that are not frequented by bears to minimize people/bear encounters. Avoid seasonal feeding and denning areas and frequently used game trails. Where possible, clear hiking trails to provide a minimum viewing distance of 50 yards (50 m) down the trail.


Capsaicin or concentrated red pepper spray has been tested and used effectively on black bears. The spray range on most products is less than 30 feet (10 m), so capsaicin is only effective in close encounters. Capsaicin spray may become more popular where use of firearms is limited.


None are registered.


None are registered.


Culvert and Barrel Traps. Live trapping black bears in culvert or barrel traps is highly effective and convenient (Fig. 6). Set one or two culvert traps in the area where the bear is causing a problem. Post warning signs on and in the vicinity of the trap. Use baits to lure the bear into the trap.

Successful baits include decaying fish, beaver carcasses, livestock offal, fruit, candy, molasses, and honey. When the trap door falls, the bear is safely held without a need for dangerous handling or transfer. Bears can be immobilized, released at another site, or destroyed if necessary. Trapped bears that are released should first be transported at least 50 miles (80 km), preferably across a substantial geographic barrier such as a large river, swamp, or mountain range, and released in a remote area. Remote release mechanisms are highly recommended. Occasionally, food-conditioned bears will repeat their offenses. A problem bear should be released only once. If it causes subsequent problems it should be destroyed.

Foot Snares

The Aldrich-type foot snare (Fig. 7) is used extensively by USDA-APHIS-ADC and state wildlife agency personnel to catch problem bears. This method is safe, when correctly used, and allows for the release of nontarget animals. Bears captured in this manner can be tranquilized, released, translocated, or destroyed. Use baits as described previously to attract bears to foot snare sets. The tools required for the pipe set are an Aldrich foot snare complete with the spring throw arm, a 9-inch (23-cm) long, 5-inch (13-cm) diameter piece of stove pipe, iron pin, hammer, and shovel. Cut a 1-inch (2.5-cm) slot, 6 1/2 inches (16.5 cm) long, down one side of the pipe. Place the pipe in a hole dug 9 inches (23 cm) deep into the ground. Cut a groove in the ground to accommodate the spring throw arm so that the pan will extend through the slot into the center of the pipe. The top of the pipe should be level with the ground surface. Anchor the pipe securely to the ground, where possible, by attaching it to spikes or a stake driven into the ground inside the can. Bears will try to pull the pipe out of the ground if it “gives.” The spring throw arm should be placed with the pan extending into the pipe slot 6 inches (15 cm) down from the top of the pipe. Pack soil around the pipe 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the top. Leave the pipe slot open and the spring uncovered. Loop the cable around the pipe, leaving 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) of slack. Place the cable over the hood on the spring throw arm, then spike the cable to the ground in back of the throw arm. The cable is spiked to keep it flush to the ground so that it will not unkink or spring up prematurely. Cover the cable loop with soil to the top of the pipe. Anchor the cable securely to a tree at least 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter. Cover the spring throw arm and pipe slot with grass and leaves. Place a few boughs and some brush around the set to direct the bear into the pipe. The slot in the pipe and the spring throw arm should be at the back of the set. The bear can approach the set from either side or the front. Melt bacon into the bottom of the pipe and drop a small piece in. The bacon should not lie on the pan. Other bait or scent, such as a fishscented rag, may be used. Place a 15- to 20-pound (6.8- to 9-kg) rock over the top of the pipe. Melt bacon grease on the top of it or rub it on. The rock will serve to prevent humans, birds, nontarget wild animals, and livestock from being caught in the snare. The bear will approach the set and proceed to lick the grease off the rock. It will then roll the rock from the top of the pipe and try to reach the bait with its mouth. When this fails, it will use a front foot, which will then be caught in the snare. The bear will try to reach the bait first with its mouth and may spring the set if the pan is not placed the required 6 inches (15 cm) below the top of the pipe. Pipe sets are more efficient, more economical, and safer than leghold traps. Sources of bear foot snares are found in Supplies and Materials.

*The above information was taken from a University of Nebraska Web site with
express permission of Stephen Vatassel, wildlife damage project coordinator.

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