With summer here you may be planning to go camping and hoping to see animals. Before you go listen to these tips from Faith Heaton Jolley, with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, who joined Good Morning Utah to talk about safety around bears and why you shouldn’t touch baby deer.
Included below is some of the information discussed.
Tips for staying safe in bear country
Utah is bear country and they are amazing animals. But most of us probably wouldn’t feel comfortable coming face to face with one in our campsite. If you follow a few simple steps, you can decrease the chances of that happening and can help keep
you and the bears safe.
Black bears are the only native bear species currently in Utah, and they have an amazing sense of smell. They also have no problem eating the same type of food that people eat. As a result, many of the conflicts between people and bears happen because the bears start scavenging for the food that humans are eating and cooking in the bear’s natural habitat.
“Even though they’re incredibly strong and surprisingly fast, black bears will typically do everything they can to avoid people,” Darren DeBloois, mammals coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said. “When a bear finds food, though, that all changes. Once it finds food, a bear will often become aggressive toward anything it perceives as threatening the area where it found the food. That includes people.”
Here are a few simple tips to keep both you and the bears safe while you are out recreating in their territory this summer:
“Bear-proof” your food
Store your food, snacks and scented items (such as deodorant and toothpaste) in an area where a bear can’t get to them. Do not leave them out on tables or keep them in your tent. Storing them in a locked trailer or locking them in the trunk of your car are both good options. Storing food and scented items in these areas will reduce the chance that a bear smells them. And, if a bear does make its way to the area where you’re staying, if it isn’t rewarded with food, it will likely move on.
Keep your cooking grill clean
After you’re through eating, thoroughly clean utensils and anything else that was used to prepare or eat the food. Don’t dump oil or grease from pots or pans onto the ground. Instead, put the oil or grease in a container, and take it home with you. By keeping your campsite or cabin area clean, you reduce the chance that a bear will smell food and trash, and be lured to your camp.
Keep your campsite clean
Don’t toss food scraps and other trash around your campsite or cabin area. Instead, put it in trash bags, and take it home with you. Make sure to wipe down picnic tables and keep the area free of food and other debris. Always keep your campsite or cabin area clean because a dirty campsite can attract bears long after you’ve left.
“If a bear visits the area after you leave and then someone comes into that area to camp, you’ve created a potentially dangerous situation,” DeBloois said.
Never feed a bear
This may seem like common sense, but it’s worth noting. Although bear cubs may seem cute, you should absolutely never feed one – or an adult bear for that matter. They are wild animals and natural predators.
Once a bear loses its fear of people, wildlife biologists and conservation officers are left with something they dread: having to euthanize an animal to keep people safe.
“We got into the wildlife profession because we love wildlife,” DeBloois says. “We enjoy managing and protecting animals so Utahns can get outdoors and enjoy them. Having to euthanize an animal – because someone didn’t do something as simple as keeping their campsite clean and storing food in a secure area – is tough. Please don’t put us in that situation this year.”
What to do if you encounter a bear:
- Stand your ground: Never back up, lie down or play dead.
- Stay calm and give the bear a chance to leave.
- Prepare to use your bear spray or another deterrent.
- Don’t run away or climb a tree. Black bears are excellent climbers and can run up to 35 mph – you cannot out climb or outrun them.
- Know bear behavior. If a bear stands up, grunts, moans or makes other sounds, it’s not being aggressive. These are the ways a bear gets a better look or smell and expresses its interest.
- If a black bear attacks, always fight back and never give up! People have successfully defended themselves with almost anything: rocks, sticks, backpacks, water bottles and even their hands and feet.
Don’t touch baby deer that you find in the wild
If you hike or camp in an area where deer live in Utah, don’t be surprised if you come across a deer fawn, or maybe even an elk calf, during the early summer. This is the time of year when they are being born, which is why you may find one during
your outdoor adventures.
If you do happen to see one in the wild, you probably won’t see its mother. Not seeing its mother might lead you to believe that the animal has been abandoned. But that’s rarely the case.
“Deer fawns are actually alone and isolated during their first weeks of life – and that’s on purpose,” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources big game coordinator Covy Jones said. “The mother knows that leaving the fawn alone is the best way to protect it from predators.”
Newborn big game animals fall into two categories: followers and hiders. Followers include bison calves and bighorn sheep lambs, which follow their mothers shortly after they’re born. Hiders, such as mule deer fawns and elk calves, do the opposite – they hide, alone, for most of the day.
During the day, a doe deer will reunite with its fawn for a short time, to nurse it and care for it. Then, to draw attention away from where the fawn is hiding, the mother will leave the fawn. The doe will spend the rest of the day feeding and resting.
Fawns are born with a creamy brown coat that’s covered with white spots. This camouflaged coat allows the fawn to blend in with its surroundings. And fawns don’t give off much scent, so it’s difficult for predators to smell them. Hiding is the best way for the fawn to stay safe.
After two or three weeks, the fawn grows strong enough to start accompanying its mother.
So what should you do if you see a deer fawn or an elk calf that appears to be alone?
“Don’t approach it,” Jones said. “Watch it or take a photo of it from a distance, but don’t approach it. In almost every case, the fawn has not been abandoned by its mother.”
Finding and petting newly born animals is another problem because the animal’s survival depends on it being left alone. If you touch it, you may leave your scent on the animal, which could draw predators to it.
Even if you don’t touch the fawn, getting too close can cause the fawn to run away from you – and from its hiding place where its mother left it. Then, when the mother comes back to care for the fawn, it won’t be there.
“Keeping your distance and not touching animals are the keys to keeping young animals alive,” Jones said.
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