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MORGAN — State wildlife officials tranquilized and relocated a black bear seen roaming around Morgan Middle School early Monday.
While no one was harmed, they say the ongoing drought may lead to more bear-human interactions in northern Utah.
Authorities in Morgan County received multiple calls from residents who saw the bear walking through neighborhoods in Morgan on Monday, according to Morgan County Sheriff's Sgt. Lucas Call.
"A short while later, the bear was spotted at the middle school, and luckily, school was not in," he said. "However, it was just before kids were walking to school."
The bear thankfully didn't affect students arriving at the school, located at 115 E. Young St., said Morgan School District spokeswoman Gwen Romero. Students arrive on the south and west sides of the school, "so they were kept well away from the bear."
She said the bear then wandered to a park while the students were still in the first hour of classes. Officials found the bear in a field, where it became "scared" and climbed a tree near some apartments in the area, according to Call.
Authorities asked residents to help keep the bear in the area using game hounds before the bear was tranquilized, put in safety restraints, and loaded into a vehicle, Call said. Faith Heaton Jolley, spokeswoman with the Division of Wildlife Resources, said the bear was relocated a safe distance away from the city.
Darren DeBloois, the division's game mammals coordinator, explained Utah's drought increases the probability of bear "conflicts." Drought can diminish a black bear's food supply, which leads them to seek alternative food sources where humans can be.
This tends to begin in the spring, as the species comes out of hibernation. It continues into the summer, as the plants and vegetation, which accounts for 90% of a bear's diet, become unavailable. Since bears have a very good sense of smell, they can easily smell the types of foods humans eat or leave in a garbage bin.
"The lower food supply could lead to more bear conflicts this summer as bears look more broadly for food," DeBloois said in a statement Monday. "We're anticipating a possible increase in incidents this year of bears getting into people's garbage and scavenging for food."
The lower food supply could lead to more bear conflicts this summer as bears look more broadly for food. We're anticipating a possible increase in incidents this year of bears getting into people's garbage and scavenging for food.
–Darren DeBloois, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
The division recommends campers and residents in areas either in or by canyons and foothills to bear-proof all food and scented supplies, like deodorant and toothpaste. Campers should also keep cooking areas and campsites clean. Residents should consider removing any birdfeeders, fruit trees, compost piles, beehives, pet food/water bowls and barbecue grills because they can also draw in bears. Outdoor pets should be kept inside overnight, too.
People are reminded not to feed bears because it causes the species to lose their fear of people, which puts humans at risk. Wildlife biologists ultimately euthanize bears that lose their fear of people because bears are still wild animals and natural predators.
If anyone does see a bear, as was the case Monday morning, they should call the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. People are also encouraged to report any bear that is acting aggressive, getting into trash cans, or causing damage in foothill and canyon areas.
As for actual interactions with bears, the agency advises:
- Stand your ground. Don't back up, lie down or play dead. Stay calm and give the bear a chance to leave.
- Don't run away or climb a tree. Black bears are excellent climbers and can run up to 35 mph.
- If a bear stands up, grunts, moans or makes other sounds, it is 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. People have successfully defended themselves with almost anything: rocks, sticks, backpacks, water bottles and even their hands and feet.
More tips and information about bears can be found here.