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This time of year, be bear aware

A surveillance camera captured this photo of a bear in Ashland. [Photo courtesy Ashland Police Department]
A bear wanders a street in Ashland. [Photo courtesy Ashland police]
ODFW and Ashland police caution citizens about bears

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Ashland Police Department are working together on an awareness campaign, “Be Bear Aware,” to remind people that spring is the season for hungry bears wandering from the forest into towns looking for food.

ODFW cites May to July as the peak months for hungry bears looking for food.

The “Be Bear Aware” campaign began in 2020, when ODFW logged 103 bear complaints. In 2021, only 62 complaints were lodged, but ODFW is concerned that bear conflicts overall are on an upward trend.

Bear conflict is the phrase used by ODFW and the Ashland police to describe any interaction between bears and humans, domestic animals or livestock.

ODFW breaks bear conflict into two categories: damage bears and human safety bears. Damage bears break into sheds, chicken coops and sometimes houses. They tear siding off residences and will knock down birdfeeders, barbecues or compost bins in their search for food.

“If your bird feeder is on the ground every morning, it’s probably a bear,” said Matthew Vargas, assistant district wildlife biologist with ODFW, who advised at that point to remove the bird feeder.

Bears are also attracted to garbage cans, fruit fallen from trees, pet food and sometimes pets.

“Don’t give bears a reason to come into your yard or your neighborhood,” said Ashland police Chief Tighe O’Meara.

To be bear aware, residents should be careful of all possible bear attractants, Ashland police and ODFW advised.

“They’re smart,” Vargas said. “When they find food somewhere, they’ll keep coming back.”

Being bear aware means preventing access to any possible food reward. Keep barbecues clean or hide them in a garage, remove fallen fruit from beneath trees, keep pets in at night and keep pet food secure.

Keep trash cans in the garage until the last responsible moment to put them on the curb, and consider investing in bear-proof garbage cans through Recology.

“Half of Ashland is built on the side of a mountain range,” O’Meara said. “We’re encroaching on their natural habitat.”

Bears come from the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest just outside city limits and sometimes from Lithia Park.

For this reason, Vargas said, Ashland has the most bear conflicts in Southern Oregon, an area dense with bears. This is due not only to Ashland’s proximity to the forest and its large parks system, but also the structure of neighboring cities.

Medford, Eagle Point and Central Point have urban areas with suburbs, ringed around with orchards, farmland, rangeland and other rural properties. These properties serve as a buffer, keeping bears out of urban and suburban areas.

In Ashland, bears wander mostly into the west side of town above Siskiyou Boulevard and North Main Street. Residents of those areas should exercise extreme caution with possible food sources.

Bears wander into urban areas not only because of trash cans and bird feeders, but because some people have fallen to the temptation to feed bears. (Photo courtesy Ashland Police Department)

Bears wander into urban areas not only because of trash cans and bird feeders, but because some people have fallen to the temptation to feed bears. Feeding bears could eventually be fatal to them.

ODFW does not practice catch and release for bears. Bears that become habituated to people often become aggressive toward them. Signs of aggression include flattening ears, snapping jaws, false charges, growling, and very rarely attacks. Vargas reported that bear attacks in Oregon are extremely rare, on the order of less than one per year.

Bears relying on people for food or who have become aggressive may be killed. The decision is made with the landowner struggling with the bear and the local police department. Nonlethal options such as electric fences, air horns and bear spray (in the right wind conditions) are generally tried first.

If the decision is made for lethal removal, the bear will be shot.

“It’s not something we like doing.” Vargas said.

Under Oregon law, the meat must be saved and eaten. ODFW keeps a list of charities and butchers for this occasionally necessary occasion.

“Most people don’t realize it’s very good table fare,” Vargas said.

In the event of a bear encounter, ODFW urges Oregonians to stop. Give the bear space to escape and never approach a bear for any reason. Stay calm, avoid eye contact, and make no sudden moves. Facing the bear, walk backward slowly.

If the bear attacks, ODFW says to fight back. Fighting could be screaming, waving a jacket, arms, sticks, throwing rocks or punches, but always keep trying to get away, and keep fighting.

Most of the time bears see people and run in the opposite direction. The Be Bear Aware campaign hopes to keep it that way.

Nonemergency bear activity can be reported to Ashland’s bear reporting website, https://gis.ashland.or.us/bear/, or call ODFW at 541-826-8774.

For more information on living with bears and how to identify species or buy bearproof containers, visit www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/black_bears.asp.