Tips for living in bear country |

Tips for living in bear country

JoAnne Skelly
For the Appeal
Photo by Alex Close

With the arrival of active bear season, Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) mailed informative brochures titled, “Living in Bear Country?”

We do live in bear country. I have had calls from people in Kings Canyon about seeing bears in their orchards. My friend Marie has had bears break into her garage in Lakeview. Another friend’s elderly parents live at South Lake Tahoe, and have had a bear repeatedly break into their house while they were home.

The wildlife department points out that black bears rarely attack, but because we live in bear habitat, we will have encounters with them. They often become “human-habituated” to food we give our pets and the birds, to our garbage, to the barbecue, or to what we grow in our orchards and gardens. Fishponds and compost piles also attract bears. It is our responsibility to remove these attractants.

Use bear-resistant garbage cans and don’t put garbage out until the morning of pick-up. NDOW advises spraying ammonia in and around garbage cans. Feed pets indoors. Don’t feed the birds. Put “electrical fencing combined with a tall metal or wooden fence” around orchards, fishponds, or compost piles. Marie used motion sensing lights and horns to scare the bears.

Bears live in forests near open meadows and streams, but can travel miles for food. Thick brush and berry patches are their preference. When you and your family are out hiking, avoid these areas and carry bear pepper spray containing capsaicin. Make noise as you walk, to avoid startling a bear. If you do encounter a bear, do not approach it. Give it plenty of room to pass by. Do not run. Rather, face the bear and make yourself look bigger by raising your jacket or sweatshirt over your head to increase your size. Talk firmly, make noises at the bear and slowly back away. Never take your eyes off it. Consider carrying an air horn when in bear country, to scare away a bear if you come upon one. Make sure children know what to do and how to behave in bear country. Keep dogs on leashes.

According to NDOW, “Warning signs of an impeding charge include: a steady glare; ears laid back; smacking of the jaws and stomping of the front feet.” If attacked, fight back with anything available. NDOW firmly states, “You cannot outrun a bear.” You also cannot outclimb a bear. They are excellent tree climbers. By climbing a tree, you will encourage them to chase you, and the bear will see you as prey.

For more information, see the NDOW Web site,, or call 688-1500.

Join me for a guided tour of a home landscape modified to reduce the threat of wildfire, 10 -11:30 a.m., May 19, at 4001 County Line Road in Carson City. This is our Defensible Space Demonstration House. Go to for information on how to protect your home from the threat of wildfire.

For information on gardening, contact me, 887-2252 or, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at “Ask a Master Gardener” by e-mailing

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City / Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.