JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Bears are on the move in spring and early summer, and the Missouri Department of Conservation wants all Missouri residents to be careful.

MDC said bears are commonly seen in counties like Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, and Crawford, but just over a year ago a male black bear was seen in Richmond Heights in St. Louis County.

“Incidents like this remind us that black bears are becoming a growing part of the St. Louis regional landscape, even at times in highly populated areas,” MDC said.

The department said Missouri is home to around 800 black bears and the population is growing annually by 8 percent.

“Only one species can be found in this state—the American black bear—though multiple color phases can be found in Missouri other than black, such that a bear’s fur can be brown, red, or cinnamon in color,” MDC said.

Bears are not usually aggressive, according to the department. Their movement patterns are driven by finding food and mates.

“Food, or rather the lack of it, is key to avoiding conflicts with bears,” MDC said. “The last thing homeowners should do is tempt them with any sort of food source, whether it be intentionally or unintentionally.  Feeding bears can be dangerous as it makes the bears comfortable around people. It can also lead bears to cause significant damage to property while searching for a meal.”

MDC suggests the following tips 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.

These suggestions will also help issues with other animals subside.

MDC also offered tips for staying safe while hiking and camping.

  • 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.
  • If hiking or camping in bear country, consider carrying bear spray. Read the instructions carefully and keep bear spray immediately available on your belt or your pack’s waist strap, not buried inside your pack.
  • 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.