Bears are on the move in Mississippi. What do you do if you encounter one?
Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2023
Monday afternoon a game warden and black bear met in the backyard of a home in Pike County on Old Brookhaven Road before the pair went their separate ways. It is just one example of bear sightings and interaction with humans growing in the summer months.
June, July, and August are peak times for people to run across a bear in this state. The summertime is breeding season for bears and young male bears are often kicked out of their mother’s home territory. They will move to find a new territory nearby.
Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Bear Program Coordinator Anthony Ballard said it is common for people to encounter bears in places they are not typically found this time of year.
“They are just passing through. Bears can cover 10 to 12 miles in a day. Of course, when a bear is in a neighborhood it makes the news. This is the time of year for it,” Ballard said. “Trust me, they don’t want to be in the middle of town. If you see a bear, especially if it is in the city, make sure you stay away from it. A lot of times a bear will come to a city and goes up into a tree because people are at the bottom of it. Most of the time if you back off the bear will ease on out.”
Ballard said the bear in Pike County and bear sightings in Pass Christian have had the best possible outcomes with bears moving along. He thanked the Pike County Sheriff’s Office and the MDWFP Game Wardens for handling the situation well.
“I contacted people (in Pass Christian) and they followed instructions well. They did their part to put food and attractants up and it helped. It was a happy ending,” Ballard said. “We are trying to educate people that it is important to do your part and clean up your area from food and trash. It is fine to take pictures and videos. We want everyone to be safe.”
Black bears are native to Mississippi and the population continues to grow. In the past month, Lincoln County has added two more sightings to the Black Bear Sightings map since 2016.
It is likely a person could come in contact with a black bear in Southwest Mississippi. People have reported 396 sightings of black bears to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks since 2016. Ballard said the uptick in sightings is largely due to awareness. People can join the public Facebook group Mississippi Black Bear Photos to see photos and sightings around the state.
Wilkinson County currently leads the southwest region with 25 sightings, Claiborne County closely follows with 20 sightings, Jefferson County has 15 sightings, Franklin County has 14, Adams County has eight, Copiah County has six, Lincoln and Walthall County have three sightings, Jefferson Davis Amite, Pike and Lawrence Counties have one sighting.
One way people can limit conflicts with bears in residential settings is to remove any attractants such as pet food, birdseed, or garbage. Ballard said the department does not relocate bears even if they are in a residential area.
“They did a study in Tennessee where 60 percent of the bears relocated ended up going straight back to where they were captured. A good portion were also hit by cars trying to get back,” Ballard said. “It could be a danger to the public and puts the bear at a higher risk when you relocate them. Even if it doesn’t come back, if it was habituated to food, it will continue the behavior. Relocating bears is not shown to be effective.”
What to do if you encounter Yogi
BearWise, a cooperative site of several state wildlife agencies, recommends a few things to people who encounter bears. If you turn a corner, open a dumpster or step into a building and come face to face with a bear it is best to give the bear a clear escape route. Do not corner the bear, leave doors open as you slowly back away and do not lock it in a room, BearWise states.
Black bear encounters in your yard require a different approach. BearWise recommends banging pots and pans, shouting, making loud noises or perhaps ringing your Mississippi State cowbell to scare away a bear. Check your backyard for bears before letting your dog or cat outside.
A person should handle wood encounters depending on the situation. Suppose a hiker or hunter encounters a bear in the woods and they have not been noticed by the bear. BearWise recommends a person to stand still, don’t move and enjoy the moment of seeing one in the wild. After the bear moves along, ease quietly in the opposite direction; however, if a bear does notice you out in the woods, do not run but slowly back away in the opposite direction. Wait for the bear to leave.
One recommendation made by BearWise is for hunters to eliminate the use of feeders.
Supplemental feeding of deer can be done naturally without the use of feeders through food plots. Feeders are connected to the unnatural congregation of deer heightening the risk of disease spreading including Chronic Wasting Disease and corn can contain aflatoxins lethal to turkeys and poults.
People can visit BearWise.org for more information about how to avoid encountering bears and what to do if you encounter one.
Ballard said he had a few updates on ongoing research projects with the MDWFP and Mississippi State University. They were able to successfully tag a young male black bear in Wilkinson County. He said they hope to start trapping bears for tagging in August. MSU was also engaging in a hair snagging project to collect DNA samples.
“The grad students and technicians are trying to get to 100 hair snares. They should get that and then some,” Ballard said.