What’s on the bear menu? Everything

Bears are attracted to anything that smells; it doesn’t even need to smell good. Garbage, compost piles, dirty diapers, pizza boxes, empty beverage cans…to a hungry black bear, it all smells like something good to eat.

Bears are curious and always exploring. If a bear follows its nose to a buffet of easy-to-get-at foods, liquids, pet foods or garbage, it learns that where there are people, there is food. Bears also have great memories, so when a bear gets a big food reward, you can be sure it will come back looking for more. In fact, bears are so smart, in some areas they’ve even learned what night the trash goes out to the street for pick up.

Safety for You, Your Neighbors & the Bears:  If you and your neighbors keep your food and garbage securely out of sight, smell and reach, you’ll be helping to keep bears in the wild and out of your neighborhood.

Out of sight, out of smell, out of reach

Store garbage and recycling where bears can’t smell or access it: either in a properly latched bear-resistant container or inside a bear-resistant building are the most effective options. Flimsy sheds are not bear-resistant. A pickup truck bed is not an option.

If your trash collection company doesn’t offer bear-resistant containers, you can find tips for buying or creating your own on our Keep Bears Out page as well as information about creating a trash corral or enclosure and many other tips. Investing in a bear-resistant container is worth it when you factor in the cost of replacing your ruined garbage cans and the time you spend picking up scattered trash, but before you buy one, make sure your waste removal company can service it.

Don’t be a night owl. Bears have excellent night vision and seem to instinctively know that the later it is, the fewer people they’ll run into. If your trash and recycling is picked up once or twice a week, always put it out in the morning, not the night before. That way you won’t wake up to a smashed container and a yard full of shredded, mangled trash.

The longer trash sits, the more it smells and double-bagging doesn’t help. If it’s your job to take your garbage and recycling to an approved disposal site, BearWise recommends removing it at least weekly.

Screens keep out bugs, not bears. Storing trash or anything with an odor on a screened-in porch or on or under your deck is inviting bears to come explore.

Some bears have learned to recognize coolers, ice chests and refrigerators and expect to find a nice food reward inside. Leaving these items outside can attract bears, even if they aren’t full of food or beverages. And just so you know, bears don’t always open things quite the way people do.

Anything that attracts raccoons will attract bears, too

Photo by Sheryl Moore, Georgia

To a bear, banana peels, apple cores, cookie crumbs and leftovers are all food. Bears can detect molecules of food so small we humans would need a magnifying glass to see them. Anything from your picnic lunch (“I only went inside for a minute”) to a sandwich crust, snacks spilled on the ground or even empty peanut shells can attract a bear. So never leave anything that looks or smells like food outside unattended. Clean up and pick up all your trash and leftovers and bring them inside.

Don’t forget the pet food and birdseed

Be BearWise and store your pet food inside. If there’s no way you’re storing fifty pounds of dog food in the house, invest in a top-quality bear-resistant container, keep it latched and give the outside a nice bleach bath when you refill. Never leave pet bowls outside.

Because BearWise doesn’t recommend feeding birds when bears are active, we’ve created a bulletin with all sorts of ways to attract more birds without attracting bears.  So clean your feeders and store them inside until winter and download BearWise Bulletin #1: Attracting Birds, Not Bears.

Compost smells yummy to bears

It’s best to avoid composting in areas where bear visits are frequent, because all those food odors attract bears. If you do compost, don’t put meat, grease, bones, unwashed eggshells or large amounts of sweet fruit scraps or rinds into your compost. You may also want to consider an electric fence or enclosed, bear-resistant composter. Read How to Compost in Bear Country.

Why forage in the wild when people provide fast fill-ups??

Gulping down thousands of calories worth of garbage, pet food, nectar or birdseed takes a lot less time and energy than foraging for natural foods. Once bears learns that foraging in neighborhoods is fast, easy and extremely rewarding, problems for people and bears usually quickly follow. When you take the time to make sure bears can’t get at your trash and other attractants, you set a great example for your community and teach bears that it doesn’t pay to hang out in neighborhoods hoping for an easy meal.

Thanks for Not Trashing the Bears

BearWise®. Created by bear biologists. Supported by State Wildlife Agencies.
Dedicated to helping people live responsibly with black bears.
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