Bears tend to be most active in town in the spring and fall
By Lee Juillerat for Ashland.news
Humans aren’t the only ones glad to see warming temperatures and other signs of spring.
Spring is also a time when bears waking up from their winter hibernation can be found roaming city streets in search of an easy meal.
“Things have been pretty slow to start,” said Chris Shelton, assistant wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Rogue District, of bear reports this spring. “I can imagine the next few weeks things will pick up.”
If there’s a reported human-wildlife encounter in Oregon, it’s mostly likely to be with a bear, an ODFW officer told Ashland.news last year — and if it’s a human-bear encounter, it’s more likely to be in Ashland than anywhere else in the state.
Shelton said the ODFW and the Ashland Police Department urge Ashland residents and visitors to be “BearWise,” particularly in the neighborhoods southwest of Siskiyou Boulevard, which borders forested areas where bears spent the winter being dormant and now are beginning to stir. Being BearWise, he said, means removing food sources that attract hungry bears, such as garbage cans with food debris, bird feeders and outside pet or livestock food.
Ashland, he said, typically experiences a high level of bear conflict within the city limits. The frequency of conflicts peak in spring when bears are refueling and in late fall when bears are fattening up for winter. ODFW has already received several nuisance bear complaints despite the prolonged winter weather in the area.
The problem is real. In 2022, ODFW logged 161 complaints about bears inside city limits, including aggressive actions, nuisance behaviors, and loss of wariness. Most of these reportedly resulted from access to garbage, bird seed, compost, and other types of food rewards. Last year’s problems with bears were heightened, Shelton said, because there were fewer than usual fruiting berries in the hills in and near Ashland
“Prevention is key to keeping bears from being a human safety problem,” Shelton emphasized. “Once bears find a taste for human and pet food sources — including garbage — they can quickly become habituated and a safety risk to people.”
Bears are often territorial and highly mobile, so ODFW does not relocate habituated bears because of the danger it presents to the individual bear, other bears in the release area, and nearby residents or people recreating.
The best way to keep bears and people safe is to prevent bears from getting food rewards in neighborhoods. “Number one,” Shelton emphasized, “is do not feed bears.”
To keep wild bears wild, ODFW requests that people: Never feed bears. Place garbage cans out just before their scheduled pick-up. Keep pet food inside. Remove bird feeders. Keep barbecue grills clean or in garage. Clean up fruit under fruit trees.
It’s also suggested that people contact Recology Ashland, which offers bear-resistant cans, by calling 541-482-1471.
If you encounter a bear, recommendations include:
- Stop: Never approach a bear at any time for any reason. If you see bear cubs, leave the area.
- Give it space: Give any bear you encounter a way to escape.
- Stay calm: Do not run or make sudden movements. Face the bear and slowly back away.
- Avoid eye contact: Don’t make eye contact with the bear.
- Don’t run: It may encourage the bear to chase you.
- Fight back: In the unlikely event you are attacked, fight back, shout, be aggressive, use rocks, sticks and hands.
Non-emergency bear activity in Ashland can be reported through the city’s bear, cougar and aggressive deer reporting website at https://gis.ashland.or.us/cougar/, or by calling ODFW directly at 541-826-8774. Dial 911 if there is an immediate threat to human health and safety.
Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at email@example.com.