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Drought Often Means More Conflict Between Humans and Bears

A black bear amongst greenery.
Jean Beaufort
Public Domain

During years with average or above-average precipitation, both black and grizzly bears in the Mountain West are pretty good at finding food, whether that's insects, berries, or root-like plants. But those natural food sources are vulnerable to drought. It doesn't help that hot and dry conditions of historic levels are currently gripping the region.

Darren DeBloois, the game mammals coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said when drought causes plant resources to dwindle, "or they're low quality when vegetation dries up, they're just not a whole lot in it for a bear to benefit from."

And when the quality and quantity of bears' food supply go down, they often go looking elsewhere, and that's when human-bear conflicts arise.

"In years where there's not an abundance of those types of foods, we generally will see an uptick in conflicts," said Dan Thompson, of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. He added that the likelihood depends on local settings, like precipitation, temperatures and snowpack.

To keep yourself and bears safe, wildlife officials say to eliminate unnatural food sources. In yards, that could include bird feeders, pet food and bowls, and unsecured trash. As for those heading into the backcountry or other campsites, it's important to bear-proof your food and supplies, and to keep your cooking area clean.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio.

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