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Time to be Bear Aware in Indiana
Two bears in two years have been spotted in Indiana. One came down from Michigan, while another swam across the Ohio River from Kentucky. These are the first two confirmed bear sightings in Indiana since the 1870s.
I love bears. They are my favorite animal, so I am excited to see them stumbling back into Indiana. I hope a population becomes established. Bears belong in Indiana. They were once abundant across the entire state. Now we have pockets of wilderness where they could thrive.
No matter which direction you travel from Indiana, you’re headed towards bear country. Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Missouri are just a few neighbors who have bears, and so do many popular summer tourist destinations like Yellowstone National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you’re planning on taking camping trip, being prepared for bear country isn’t something you should do, it’s something you have to do.
Bears inhabit many of the most wild and scenic regions of America. The fact that bears are in these wildernesses are part of the reason why we are so interested in visiting. We want to experience wildlife in wild places. What we don’t want is any kind of confrontation. Camping in bear country isn’t a problem if you follow these simple steps.
1. NEVER FEED BEARS Not only does feeding bears and other wildlife encourage an unhealthy loss of wildness, it can help spread diseases by concentrating animals around an unnatural food source. Attempts to hand-feed wildlife are even more dangerous.
2. KEEP A CLEAN CAMP Bears don’t discriminate between food and garbage. They find food scraps and wrappers as enticing as a full meal. Check the area around dog bowls for stray food after feeding.
3. WASH UTENSILS AFTER COOKING Bears’ keen sense of smell can detect food odors long after cooking is done.
4. START FOOD PREP AT HOME Peeling and slicing vegetables, cooking meat and doing other food preparation at home reduces the amount of garbage and smell produced in camp. It also allows more time for outdoor activities.
5. STORE FOOD IN AIRTIGHT CONTAINERS Rubberized dry bags, jars with tight-sealing lids and sealable plastic bags help minimize tantalizing aromas. Store food in locked vehicles or car trunks at night.
6. DON’T COOK OR EAT IN TENTS With people hidden from view, a bear can mistake a tent for a food source.
7. KEEP GARBAGE SEALED UP Double bag refuse and lock it in a car trunk or airtight container.
8. TREAT SCENTED ITEMS LIKE FOOD Soap, cosmetics and other scented items don’t smell like food to you, but they do to a bear.
9. NEVER APPROACH BEARS Wild animals are unpredictable and can be dangerous when brought into unnatural contact with people. Don’t put yourself and them at risk by trying to create a Disney moment.
10. KEEP DOGS LEASHED Bears normally flee when they encounter people, but if cornered by a dog they will defend themselves.
“If a bear is hungry enough and smells something that is tempting enough, it may investigate, even if it knows people are around,” said bear biologist Jeff Beringer of the Missouri Department of Conservation. “Gaining access to a human-related food source can break down a bear’s natural fear of people even more, and a bear that gets in the habit of eating from trash cans or camp coolers can lose that fear altogether. At that point, the bear is in mortal danger itself, besides posing a danger to people.”
If a bear enters your campsite, shout, wave your arms and use an air horn or bang pots and pans to make noise. Throw rocks and sticks at the bear. If it does not leave, get in a vehicle or building and make noise by honking the vehicle’s horn, banging pots and pans or shouting. If the bear does not leave, call your conservation agent or local law-enforcement agency.