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Be 'bear aware,' Missouri Department of Conservation says bears are on the move

Bear numbers in Missouri have increased significantly over the last 50 years, according to MDC

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Department of Conservation wants to remind people to “be bear aware.”

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), bear numbers in Missouri have increased significantly over the last 50 years and Missouri is now home to between 540 and 840 black bears. MDC also reports that bear numbers are increasing by nearly 9% each year and bear range in the state is also growing.

“Missouri’s black bears are found south of the Missouri River, primarily south of Interstate 44,” said MDC State Furbearer Biologist Laura Conlee. “Missouri’s bear population is also part of a larger population of several thousand bears distributed throughout the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and the Ouachita Mountains of Oklahoma and Arkansas.”

MDC said the black bear is one of the largest and heaviest wild mammals in the state with some that get up to 500 pounds. It also said black bears are generally shy and non-aggressive.

The department also emphasized people should never approach or feed a bear. Intentionally feeding bears can be dangerous because it makes the bears comfortable around people, MDC said. It can also lead bears to cause significant damage to property while searching for a meal.

“Bear numbers are growing and sightings are becoming increasingly more common in areas of the state that have not seen bears for many years,” she said. “That also has more people interested in Missouri black bears. So far in 2020, we’ve already received nearly 250 bear reports with multiple reports coming from areas around Lake of the Ozarks and along I-44.”

Remember Bruno the bear? 

MDC noted that’s an example of how far bears can travel and how many people are interested in them. MDC said Bruno was suspected of traveling from Wisconsin, through Illinois, and into Missouri in early July. It swam the Mississippi River from Illinois and entered the Show-Me State near Elsberry before making its way into St. Charles County near Wentzville. There, it found itself stuck between major highways just north of I-70 and near I-40/61 with a gathering of hundreds of people watching it nearby.

MDC made the decision to tranquilize Bruno to move him to a more bear-friendly area.

RELATED: 'Bruno' the black bear tranquilized in St. Charles County

RELATED: 'Bruno' the black bear spotted in Missouri

“When bears lose their fear of humans, they could approach people in search of food or may defend the food sources or territory they associate with food provided by people, which can make them dangerous,” Conlee said. “When this happens, the bear cannot be relocated and has to be destroyed. A fed bear is a dead bear.”

MDC offers the following tips to avoid attracting black bears to possible food sources:

  • Store garbage, recyclables, and compost inside a secure building or in a bear-proof container until trash pick-up day.
  • Keep grills and smokers clean and store them inside.
  • Don’t leave pet food outside. Feed pets a portion at each meal and remove the empty containers.
  • Refrain from using birdfeeders in bear country from April through November. If in use, hang them at least 10 feet high and 4 feet away from any structure. Keep in mind that even if a bear cannot get to the birdseed, the scent could still attract it to the area.
  • Use electric fencing to keep bears away from beehives, chicken coops, vegetable gardens, orchards, and other potential food sources.
  • Keep campsites clean and store all food, toiletries and trash in a secure vehicle or strung high between two trees. Do not keep food or toiletries in a tent, and do not burn or bury garbage or food waste.

Information on MDC's black bear management plan