Two black bears were shot in Utah County within 24 hours last weekend. On Friday, a campground host shot a bear in Hobble Creek Canyon because of fears for campers’ safety. The following night, Ken "Duff" Coleman, a veterinarian, shot a bear that appeared near his cabin in the South Fork of Provo Canyon after he could not scare it away by throwing fireplace logs at it and shooting rifle shots into the air. Officers from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources are investigating both shootings to determine if they were justified.
Regardless of the outcome of the investigations into these shootings, these interactions with bears highlight the need for those in bear country to be aware of the wildlife with whom they share the natural environment. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources offers a number of resources to assist when it comes to bears.
Thousands of black bears live in Utah’s forests and mountains, often in the same places we camp, hike and build our houses. This poses a safety concern for both humans and bears. 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 destroyed. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect both you and the bear.
On camping and hiking:
Sloppy campers and hikers don’t just endanger themselves, but also future visitors. Bears have amazing memories; they will return to a site repeatedly if they ate there at some point in the past. When in bear country, you should:
Maintain a bear-safe campsite
- Store food, drinks and scented items securely (in your vehicle, a bear-safe container or a tree—never in your tent)
- Dispose of trash in bear-proof dumpsters, if available
- Wipe down picnic tables
- Burn food off stoves or grills
- Pitch tents away from trails in the backcountry
- Always sleep inside your tent
- Never approach or feed a bear
- Report bear sightings to your campground host
Take precautions while hiking
- Stay alert at dawn and dusk, when bears are more active
- Go with a group, if possible
- Make noise as you travel through dense cover
- Stay away from animal carcasses
- Store food, trash and scented items (such as sunscreen) in airtight plastic bags
- Keep kids in the center of the group
On home and property:
If a bear enters your yard, give it an obvious escape route—do not corner it. Black bears can quickly inflict thousands of dollars in property damage. You can reduce or eliminate visits from bears if you:
Dispose of trash carefully
- Store trash in a secure location or bear-safe container
- Put your trash out for pick-up in the morning, not the previous night
- Clean your trash container regularly
- Put up electric fencing
- Place bear unwelcome mats (wood planks with nails or screws protruding) in front of doors or windows
- Install motion-activated lights or noisemakers
- Get one or more dogs
- Turn on garden hoses or sprinklers
- Spray the bear with bear spray
On bear encounters:
- Stand your ground. Never back up, lie down or play dead. Stay calm and give the bear a chance to leave. Prepare to use your bear spray or another deterrent.
- Don’t run away or climb a tree. Black bears are excellent climbers and can run up to 35 mph—you cannot outclimb or outrun them.
- Know bear behavior. If a bear stands up, grunts, moans or makes other sounds, it’s not being aggressive. These are the ways a bear gets a better look or smell and expresses its interest.
And if a bear attacks:
- Use bear spray. Then leave the area. Studies have shown bear spray to be 92 percent successful in deterring bear attacks.
- Shoot to kill. If you use a firearm, never fire a warning shot—aim for the center of the bear and keep firing until it is dead. Notify the Division of Wildlife Resources immediately.
- Always fight back. And never give up! People have successfully defended themselves with almost anything: rocks, sticks, backpacks, water bottles and even their hands and feet.
Finally, if you come across a nuisance bear:
If you see a bear in a residential area or you encounter an aggressive bear, please contact the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources immediately. We have offices in:
- Cedar City, (435) 865-6100
- Ogden, (801) 476-2740
- Price, (435) 613-3700
- Salt Lake City, (801) 538-4700
- Springville, (801) 491-5678
- Vernal, (435) 781-9453
We will notify a conservation officer or transfer you directly to law enforcement personnel. If your encounter or sighting occurs after business hours (8 a.m.–5 p.m.) or over the weekend, please call the police. They will contact a conservation officer to handle the situation.
Bears are native citizens of Utah and a natural part of our environment. Be prepared for encounters you may have so that the outcome is as safe and positive as possible.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.