A solid snow pack last winter and a wet spring means the number of encounters between black bears and humans in Utah should remain "normal" this summer, with plenty of food available to the large mammals.
But that precipitation also means vegetation along hiking trails and rivers -- places where many interactions occur -- may lead to more surprise and close-up encounters.
"A wet year typically means plenty of food for bears on the landscape and food resources should not be an issue throughout the summer and into the fall," said Justin Dolling, game mammal coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR). "I expect a normal year for bear sightings and bear incidents."
Dolling reports that there have been around a dozen bear calls this year leading to two relocations in the DWR's Central Region and a temporary closure of tent camping at the Avintaquin campground on the Ashley National Forest about 30 miles south of Duchesne. A bear was frequenting the campground area in mid-June, but has since moved on and the Forest Service restriction was lifted.
Other reports of bear sightings or incidents have come from the Paunsaugunt Plateau area and nearby Bryce Canyon, as well as two on the Beaver Mountains.
The sighting of a black bear in Provo Canyon last week drew interest because it is rare to see them in the wild. But many Utahns are more aware of bear encounters since an 11-year-old was pulled from a tent by a bear in American Fork Canyon in 2007. It is believed to be the only known fatal bear attack in Utah.
Bears are opportunists and many bear/human incidents are the result of a bear becoming conditioned to finding food in areas where people camp, recreate or maintain a cabin. Properly storing and disposing of food and garbage in campgrounds and picnic areas is the best way to avoid setting up yourself, or future campers, for an unwanted encounter.
"We have a bear in southern Utah that has been frequenting a remote homestead where they feed a lot of pets," Dolling said. "We have talked to them about ways to remove the food source to get the bear to move on."
Bears are most active in the early morning and late at night, so be more alert when hiking or recreating at these times in bear country.
Sightings of black bears (there are no known grizzlies in Utah), typically increase around this time of the year as more people find their way into bear habitat and because young bears are leaving their mothers and striking out on their own.
"Yearlings born one and half years ago are being kicked off by the sows so they can mate and have cubs this winter," Dolling said. "Those young bears are out cruising around trying to figure out how to make it on their own and they are often more visible to folks as they wander around. They typically do not pose a problem unless they get some kind of food reward."
State wildlife biologists do not have a firm idea of how many bears are in Utah. The general estimate is "3,500, plus or minus 1,000." There are 319 bear hunting permits available in the state this year. The spring hunting season ended in early June and the fall hunt opens on Aug. 22.
Justin Dolling of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, says several simple precautions can lessen the chance that a black bear visits your campsite this summer:
» Don't leave food and scented items, such as deodorants and tooth paste, in a tent or out where a bear can get them. Cook away from your tent or sleeping area. Don't sleep in the clothes you wore while cooking or the clothes you wore while cleaning fish.
» Keep your campsite and cabin area clean. Don't toss food scraps and other trash around or leave it in a fire pit.
» Don't keep any food in the same area where you're sleeping.
» Never feed a bear.
» Don't leave food out. Lock your food and coolers inside your vehicle. You can also suspend them at least 12 feet high between two trees, so bears can't reach them. Bear proof containers are also available for food items. Coolers are not bear proof.
» More tips on how to stay safe in bear country, including what to do if you encounter a bear while hiking, are at www.wildlife.utah.gov/bearsafety.
» Not all black bears are black. Some can be blonde, cinnamon, honey-colored or brown.
» Bears were classified as a game animal in Utah in 1967, when regulations were set to control hunting.
» Grizzly bears were exterminated in Utah in the 1920s.
» The number of bear hunting permits has increased from 43 in 1969 to 319 in 2009.
Source » Utah Division of Wildlife Resources