How to deal with bears

Expert tips for making your cottage less appetizing to hungry bears

By Cottage LifeCottage Life

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In part because of changing habitats, cottagers are seeing more and more bears. Hungry bruins will travel to snack on dropped bits of barbecued meat, garbage, and even hand sanitizer. To make our cottages less appetizing to bears, we’ve got to work together. Here’s what to do.

Check out bear densities in your area

How to deter bears at the cottage

  • Feed birds only during the winter months.
  • Plant hummingbird-friendly flowers, rather than using hummingbird feeders. Plant native trees, and offer water to attract birds to your property.
  • Freeze meat, fat, scraps, and cooking grease until garbage day. Store garbage in a properly installed bear-resistant container, secure shed, or garage.
  • Clean your barbecue of grease and food scraps (including the grease cup) after use. If possible, lock it in a secure shed when you’re not at the cottage.
  • Wash recyclable containers, beer, and pop cans.
  • Contain items with smells that bears may find interesting (that includes used diapers and gasoline)
  • Store foods or garbage in bear-resistant and odour-proof containers.

When leaving or closing the cottage

  • Clean garbage and recycling containers with a strong disinfectant, such as Pine-Sol. (Pine-Sol has the added bonus of a pine scent—an odour that bears don’t associate with a  natural food source.)
  • Remove food and toiletries, especially anything that’s been opened. (Bears have been known to snack on Preparation H and Purel.)
  • Unopened cans and jars should have no odour, but bears that have learned there’s food inside will still bite or break them open.
  • If you’re going to leave bottles and jars that have been opened, wipe down the outsides to reduce the food odour.
  • For the same reason, clean the seals around refrigerator and freezer doors, clean spills off your stove, and wipe doors and windows in food and garbage areas with cleaning solvent, such as Pine-Sol, to mask odours. Wash the filter on your dishwasher.
  • Close and lock doors and windows. Keep blinds closed.

In areas with a history of bear problems, or an ongoing bear problem:

  • Hang a wind chime or leave a radio on (consider plugging it into an outlet on a motion detector to save energy—it will only come on when something passes in the sensor field).
  • Fasten “unwelcome mats”—plywood or boards with protruding nails or screws at doors and beneath windows especially if you have a B&E bear in the area. (Do not to sharpen the nails and screws. The discomfort of off-the-shelf fasteners will deter bears, and sharpened unwelcome mats could endanger human visitors as well as being considered cruelty to animals.) They can go at the bottom or top of steps leading up to decks, and on window sills, so a bear trying to peek inside is discouraged and then is less likely to pull up and into a window.
  • Drive off prowling bears with an air horn or whistle. Consider using bear bangers, bear sprays, or high-pressure water from a hose against persistent bears. Wildlife control companies sell motion-activated lights, sprinklers, or sirens and other bear-scaring devices. Learn more about bear deterrents here.
  • Consider surrounded the cottage with an electric fence.



Note: These tips are drawn from Ontario’s Bear Wise program, the Federation of Ontario Cottagers, and Elizabeth Quinn of the McGregor Bay Association.

This article was originally published on August 23, 2011

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