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You're more likely to encounter a black bear this fall. KSMU's Michele Skalicky has more.
There are black bears in the Ozarks, but most people never see them. However, that may change over the next few weeks. Rex Martensen is Private Lands Field Programs Supervisor with the Missouri Department of Conservation.
"This early spring freeze that we had had a major impact on a lot of the fruit-bearing trees and, in particular, the white oak acorns."
Martensen says we'll have a shortage of fall food supplies for bears since acorns make up between 80 to 90% of their diet.
"And they're going to be looking in other and unusual places probably for food to supplement that lack of acorns, and that could be backyard game feeders. It could be bird feeders. It could be beehives or whatever food sources they may be after, they're going to be looking for something to supplement that lack of acorns."
Bears are busy looking for food this time of year, getting fattened up for hibernation. Martensen urges people in areas where black bears are found—south of I-44—to keep pet food, bird feeders and livestock feed out of the reach of bears—that is, locked behind impenetrable doors to keep the attraction away for bears so they're not tempted to come in and become a problem.
Feeding black bears or allowing them access to food can actually harm the animals.
"If a bear becomes reliant on handouts, then it alters their natural behavior to go out and search for food in other places, and whenever that handout situation changes, people quit feeding the bear or they remove the food source, then whenever they're out of the habit of going out and finding food on their own, then it puts them in a little bit of a quandry as to where next to go for a food source."
Martensen says the Conservation Department steps in when a black bear becomes a problem. Harassment techniques are used to try to make those bears afraid of humans so they move on.
"However, in certain situations where they've become so accustomed to human contact and human feeding, many times there's no choice but to destroy the bear. Releasing it or moving it just moves the problem, so people need to understand, if they feed bears that they inadvertantly may be contributing to the death of that bear."
He says, besides removing food sources, there are steps homeowners can take, too.
"If they get up there in the yard, if they want to take a couple of pictures, that's great, but other than that people need to harass them off with loud noises, anything to just make them feel unwelcome in that area."
Martensen says they're not sure exactly how many black bears we have in Missouri, though they suspect there are around 250 to 400 statewide, mostly in SW MO. He says the Conservation Department wants to know if you see a bear in your area. Call your Conservation Department Regional Office. In Springfield, it's 895-6880.
For KSMU, I'm Michele Skalicky.