Homes & cabins

Once a bear finds food on your property, it will likely return for more. Repeated access to food can teach bears to associate homes with a food source and erode the bear’s natural instinct to avoid people. Removing the attractant is good for you and the bear.

Bears do not forget the locations of food sources. Their keen memories play a critical role in how they forage. The timing, amount and availability of natural foods such as fruits and berries can vary from year to year. In low abundance years, bears may spend more time foraging to meet their calorie needs. Any food sources that are concentrated in calories that humans make easy to get, either on purpose or on accident, can be irresistible to a hungry bear.

This video from Colorado Parks and Wildlife shows you easy steps to protect your property from bears. Although the habitat is different in Colorado than Minnesota, bear behavior is the same and these tips will help you bear-proof your home and cabin.

 

How to do your part to minimize bear problems
Two black bear cubs on deck, one walking and the other inspecting blue plastic watering can next to green plastic watering can.

Do:

  • Remove bird feeders in the spring. If you persist in feeding birds during the summer, remove seed, suet and hummingbird feeders at night. You can also hang bird feeders from a cable out of a bear’s reach: 10-12 feet off of the ground and 10 feet from any other trees.
  • Store your trash can in a secure area, such as a sturdy shed or garage, and put it out on the morning of garbage pickup, not the night before. Alternately, contact your trash hauler service about bear-proof garbage can options.
  • Wash garbage cans regularly to reduce odors. Rinse food cans and wrappers before disposal.
  • Store meat scraps and fish entrails in the freezer until trash pickup day.
  • Limit compost piles to grass, leaves and garden clippings, and turn piles regularly.
  • Immediately cover composting food scraps with 6 inches or more of brown materials, like leaves or 4 inches of green materials like fresh mowed grass.
  • Harvest garden produce as it matures. 
  • Pick up and remove ripe fruit from fruit trees and surrounding grounds. If your fruit crop is too abundant to clean up, consider protecting your fruit trees with energized fencing.
  • Clean grills and store them in a secure location, such as a sturdy shed or garage.
  • Keep doors and windows shut when you are not in your home or cabin. Bears have pushed in screen doors and windows to enter cabins to find food sources when people are not around.

Don't:

  • Ever feed bears! It teaches them to associate you or your space with food and they will return. You may be comfortable with wildlife in close proximity to your home, but your neighbor may not. Feeding bears can create conflict between neighbors. Bears may be killed if they become a safety threat to people or pets, or cause property damage. 
  • Leave pet food outside.
Bird feeders are potential bear feeders
Black bear pulling a bird feeder.

Feeding birds is an enjoyable pastime, but it can attract bears. Consuming birdseed is a no-brainer for bears. 

In the summer, bears consume 5,000–8,000 calories a day. In the fall, bears can consume 15,000–20,000 calories a day to prepare for hibernation. An average, seven-pound, tube-style bird feeder filled with black oil sunflower seed can provide 18,000–20,000 calories.

It is often much quicker to knock over a bird feeder to access calories than it is to spend hours foraging for berries and nuts.

Follow these tips to keep your bird feeder from becoming a bear feeder:

  • To attract birds without birdseed, consider an alternative like bird baths, native plants, nest boxes and standing snags. 
  • If you have problems with bears, remove bird feeders when bears are active, typically late March to early November. These dates vary with food availability.
  • Place feeders where bears cannot reach them, such as hanging them from a raised cable. Keep in mind that spillage to the ground can continue to attract bears.
There’s a bear in my yard!
Adult black bear on deck behind grill.

Living in bear country means you and the bear are sharing space. If a bear comes into your yard:

  • Don’t panic. Don’t approach it. Don’t shoot it. The mere presence of bears is not necessarily a problem or threat to your safety. A bear may simply be wandering through and should be left alone if not causing problems.
  • Make noise. Most bears naturally fear people and will leave when they see you. Making a loud noise will usually scare it away.
  • Keep a respectful distance and give the bear an escape route. If a bear woofs, snaps its jaws, slaps the ground or brush, or bluff charges you, you are too close! Back away slowly. Go inside and wait for it to leave.
  • After the bear leaves your yard, remove any non-natural foods that attracted it. Tell your neighbors to secure any attractants.
  • Scare away bears that are on your deck, following the tips above. It is not normal bear behavior to go on a deck, especially in daylight. Such bears do so only because they have been rewarded with human foods and have experienced no negative consequences. Help bears break this bad habit by removing attractants and scaring them away.
  • Leave the bear alone if it is in a tree. It will eventually climb down and go away once it feels safe. People should leave the area and dogs should be put inside.
Securing attractants with energized fencing
Electric fence around dumpster.

Energized fencing can deter bears from areas around your home that you want protected. An energized fence is powered by a low-impedance, high-voltage energizer that provides a short-duration, high-energy impulse.

  • Install energized fencing to protect beehives, dumpsters, gardens, sweet corn, fruit trees, compost piles or other food sources.
  • Because bears are very motivated, energized fencing must be done correctly and be properly maintained.
    • The fencing should produce a minimum of 7,000 volts. 
    • Bear-resistant energized fencing typically requires five to six strands of wire, with the lowest wire 8” from the ground and the top wire at least 36” from the ground.
    • Fencing must also alternate hot (+) and ground (-) wires, and have good grounding. All hot (+) fencing wires are only suitable for locations with moist soils.
  • Instructions and ideas for homeowners to protect their gardens, apiary hives, or other property (such as dumpsters or fruit trees) with energized fences can be discussed with your local wildlife manager or the wildlife depredation specialist.
  • Additional information on how to deter bears with electrified fencing is available in this helpful guide from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

If you’ve tried these techniques and are still having bear problems, contact your local DNR Area Wildlife Manager for assistance.