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Don’t feed bears, northeast Oregon residents and visitors reminded

September 7, 2012

ENTERPRISE, Ore.—After an increase in black bear complaints at Wallowa Lake, in the town of Joseph and in other parts of northeast Oregon this summer, ODFW is reminding residents and visitors not to feed bears.

At least five bears have been raiding garbage dumpsters around Wallowa Lake State Park, not just in the evening but during the daytime. Three different bears are coming into the town of Joseph, mostly raiding apple trees but also getting into outside garbage cans. ODFW is also hearing more bear complaints than usual from Baker and Union counties.

While bear problems are not uncommon in summer and early fall, poor production of their usual food source this time of year, berries, is probably exacerbating the problem.

But bears will eat other natural forage besides berries if an easy meal of unnatural items is not available. “Bear problems are predictable in that they almost always involve bears eating items left in garbage cans or otherwise provided by people, like bird seed or pet food,” says Pat Matthews, ODFW district biologist in Enterprise.

A bear that eats these unnatural food sources is more likely to become a human safety risk and be aggressive towards people, attack pets, or try to enter a structure. Another sign that a bear is becoming a human safety risk is if it is seen repeatedly during daylight hours around residences, as bears in the Joseph and Wallowa Lake areas have been. Already, four bears had to be killed at Wallowa Lake this summer after they exhibited this behavior.

This fall, ODFW plans to work with private landowners, business owners, Wallowa Lake State Park and the sanitation company that manages the dumpsters at Wallowa Lake to address the garbage issue.

  • Residents in Joseph and other parts of northeast Oregon where bears are present can take steps to stop bears from feeding on unnatural food sources:
  • Maintain regular garbage service and keep garbage inside a garage or shed until garbage day. Wash garbage cans to eliminate odor.
  • Store pet food dishes and feed inside.
  • Remove bird feeders or at a minimum hang bird feeders away from the side of your home or tree trunk so bears can’t reach them. Store birdseed inside and keep the feeder and area underneath clean.
  • Keep barbecue grills clean.
  • Only compost non-food items like leaves and grass in areas with bears.
  • Electric fences are a very effective bear deterrent.

For more information about living with black bears, see the ODFW website at

While bear sightings are not unusual, attacks on humans are rare. If you encounter a bear:

  • Give the bear a way to escape.
  • Stay calm, do not run or make sudden movements.
  • Face the bear and back away slowly.
  • Avoid direct eye contact with the bear.
  • Talk to the bear in a firm voice to let it know you are a human.
  • Fight back if attacked. Shout, use rocks, sticks and hands to fend off an attack.


Michelle Dennehy
(503) 947-6022

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