ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. — Russ Hoock thought he knew what he’d find when he looked through his Ring security camera alerts Wednesday morning.
“Around 10 o’clock I noticed there was racoons, so I thought maybe the racoons knocked over our trashcan,” he told 5 On Your Side.
But the video clip showed something much bigger than a trash panda outside his St. Charles County home.
“When I looked at the video, I saw that there was a bear,” Hoock explained.
His family’s Ring camera video shows the bear walking up to the outside trashcan and knocking it over. The bear pawed at it a few times before flipping it on its side and opening the lid. The bear can be seen digging into the blue trashcan, pulling out a bag and walking off with his loot.
“He took a bag of tortilla chips, so I guess he forgot the salsa,” Hoock laughed.
Hoock said he lives off of South Point Prairie Road near Wentzville. His property backs up to a wooded area, so he frequently sees wildlife in his yard and on his security camera. He added that he was surprised to see the bear but isn’t scared.
“I like it. I love seeing wildlife, so it really doesn’t bother me,” he said. “We live in their habitat also. To interfere with them and kick them out wouldn’t seem right.”
It’s something more St. Louis area residents could see more of, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. MDC’s Dan Zarlenga said the agency has heard about a lot of bear action in the last couple of months in the St. Louis area. They’ve received reports from St. Charles, Franklin, Washington, Warren, Jefferson and St. Louis counties.
“This last two months have been the biggest for bear sightings that we’ve ever experienced in this area,” Zarlenga told 5 On Your Side.
The conservation department doesn’t have a precise way of knowing how many bears are in the area, or whether one particular bear is the same one spotted in multiple reports. Zarlenga said it’s safe to say the increase in sightings is indicative of the expanding bear population as a whole. MDC estimates Missouri’s bear population is increasing by 9% every year. But also, the bears are expanding their range, from southern Missouri farther north – into the St. Louis area.
“We can also anticipate we are seeing a new normal with regard to bear sightings going forward,” Zarlenga added.
Hoock’s sighting in unincorporated St. Charles County is at least the second in the area this week. Security camera video captured a bear walking on a family’s back deck in rural Wildwood over the weekend.
Zarlenga reminded Missourians to never feed bears and to not approach them to try to get a picture or video.
“We don’t want bears to be conditioned in thinking of humans providing food sources, because that can lead to trouble,” Zarlenga said. “Other than that, these bears should mostly be harmless.”
The conservation department encourages anyone who sees a bear to report it on the department’s website.
MDC's tips on how to avoid issues if a bear has been sighted in the area:
- Store garbage, recyclables and compost inside a secure building or in a bear-proof container or location.
- Regularly clean and disinfect trash containers to minimize smells that could attract bears.
- 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.
MDC tips to stay safe when outdoors in bear country:
- Never deliberately offer a bear food!
- 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.
- Make noise, such as clapping, singing or talking loudly, while hiking to prevent surprising a bear.
- Travel in a group if possible.
- Keep dogs leashed.
- Be aware of surroundings. If there are signs of a bear, such as tracks or scat, avoid the area.
- Leave bears alone! Do not approach them, and make sure they have an escape route.