Report a bear problem (Bear Wise)

How to prevent — or report — an encounter with a black bear.

Report a bear problem

Emergency encounters

Call 911 or local police, if a bear poses an immediate threat to personal safety:

  • enters a school yard when school is in session
  • enters or tries to enter a residence
  • wanders into a public gathering
  • kills livestock/pets and lingers at the site
  • stalks people and lingers at the site

Non-emergency encounters

Call the Bear Wise reporting line: 1-866-514-2327 (April 1-November 30)

If a bear is:

  • roaming around, checking garbage cans
  • breaking into a shed where garbage or food is stored
  • in a tree
  • pulling down a bird feeder or knocking over a barbecue
  • moving through a backyard or field but is not lingering

How to prevent encounters

Never purposely feed bears (or other wildlife) or try to approach them.

Limit food sources

  • put garbage in containers that have tight-fitting lids, and put them out only on the morning of garbage day, not the night before (you can purchase specially designed bear-resistant containers, which work best)
  • take garbage to the dump often, if you do not have curbside pick-up
  • frequently wash garbage cans, recycling containers and lids with a strong-smelling disinfectant
  • fill bird feeders only through the winter months
  • put away feeders in the spring and instead, offer birds natural alternatives (e.g., flowers, nesting boxes, fresh water)
  • do not leave pet food outdoors, in screened- in areas or porches
  • do not put meat, fish or fruit in composters outside (keep scraps in the freezer until garbage day)
  • pick all ripe fruit from trees and bushes and fallen fruit off the ground
  • remove grease and food residue from barbecue grills, including the grease cup underneath, after each use
  • inform cottage renters of how to avoid attracting bears to the property

Keep your eyes and ears open

  • travel in groups of 2 or more (bear attacks occur primarily on people who are alone)
  • make noise as you move through areas where visibility is restricted or where background noise is high, such as near streams and waterfalls (e.g., singing, whistling or talking will alert bears to your presence, giving them a chance to avoid you)
  • while outdoors, keep your eyes and ears open:
    • scan your surroundings to check for bears
    • do not wear music headphones
    • watch for signs of bear activity (e.g., tracks, claw marks on trees, flipped-over rocks or fresh bear droppings)
    • if you are out with a dog, leash it (uncontrolled, untrained dogs may actually lead a bear to you)
    • pay attention, especially if you are working, gardening or berry picking
    • occasionally scan your surroundings to check for bears
    • rise slowly if you are in a crouched position so that you don’t startle nearby bears

Take safety precautions

  • carry and have a readily-accessible whistle or air horn
  • learn how to use bear pepper spray and carry it readily accessible
  • consider carrying a long-handled axe, if you are in “remote areas or deep in the forest”

If you encounter a bear

Stop. Do not panic. Remain calm.

Take these steps:

  • quickly assess the situation and try to determine which type of an encounter this might be – sighting, surprise or close encounter
  • do not try to get closer to the bear for a better look or picture
  • make sure the bear has a clear escape route — don’t corner a bear
  • always watch the bear and slowly back away until the bear is out of sight
  • get inside, if you are near a building or vehicle
  • leave the area, if you are berry-picking, hiking, camping, jogging or cycling
  • if you are with others, stay together and act as a group
  • if the bear does not get closer to you, slowly back away, talking to the bear in a quiet, monotone voice

Do not:

  • scream
  • turn your back on the bear
  • run
  • kneel down
  • make direct eye contact
  • climb a tree
  • retreat into water or try and swim — a bear can do these things much better than you

If it is a close encounter:

  • yell
  • wave your arms to make yourself look bigger
  • throw objects
  • blow a whistle or an air horn
  • make noise to try and persuade the bear to leave
  • prepare to use bear pepper spray

If the bear keeps advancing toward you:

  • stand your ground
  • use your bear pepper spray (if the bear is within seven metres) or anything else you can find or use to threaten or distract the bear
  • fight back as if your life depends on it

After the bear leaves:

  • tell others about bear activity in the area
  • if the bear was eating from a non-natural food source (like garbage or bird food), remove or secure the item that attracted the bear

Bear behaviours/warning signals

When bears are caught off guard, they are stressed, and usually just want to flee. These are all warning signals bears give to let you know you are too close.

Stand on its hind legs

A bear usually stands to get a better look at you or ‘catch your scent’.  This is not aggressive behaviour.

Act defensively

If a bear feels threatened by your presence, it may try to get you to back off and leave it alone.  To do this, it may:

  • salivate excessively, exhale loudly, or make huffing, moaning, clacking and popping sounds with its mouth, teeth and jaws
  • lower its head with its ears drawn back while facing you
  • charge forward, and/or swat the ground with its paws (known as a ‘bluff’ charge)

Make noise

Generally, the noisier the bear is, the less dangerous it is, provided you don't approach the bear. The noise is meant to ‘scare’ you off and acts as a warning signal.

About black bears

Bears usually avoid humans.

Black bears live throughout most of Ontario. They primarily inhabit forested areas where they are best able to find food, refuge and den sites.

Eating habits and diet

Their entire life revolves around food. When they are not hibernating, bears spend most of their time looking for food.

From the time they come out of hibernation until berry crops are available, bears live off their stored fat and the limited energy provided by fresh spring greens. They get most of their food energy by feeding on summer berry crops like blueberries, raspberries, and cherries. In the fall, they turn their attention to hazel nuts, mountain ash, acorns and beech nuts.

Though black bears will eat carrion, insects, fish, deer fawns and moose calves, the bulk of their diet is plant material. Their natural preference is to find lots of high energy food – like berry patches – that will help them fatten up fast. Their survival and ability to have and raise young depend on their ability to double their weight before going into winter hibernation.

The availability of their natural food varies from season to season and from year to year. When natural food sources are poor, black bears will travel long distances to seek out alternative sources of food.

Bear-human interactions

Bears usually avoid humans. But they are attracted into urban and rural areas to get food. They will topple bird feeders, ransack barbecues, raid garbage cans and even try to enter buildings. If they learn that they can find food where people live, bears will return again and again.

Human Bear conflicts

Most human-bear conflicts occur when bears are attracted by smells and rewarded with an easy meal. 

When bears pick up a scent with their keen noses, they will investigate it. 

If bears are rewarded with feasts of bird food, garbage or pet food, they will return as long as the food source is available. 

About attacks

Black bear attacks are extremely rare.

A black bear may attack if it:

  • feels threatened
  • is a predatory bear

Threatened bears

A bear may attack if it perceives you to be a threat to it, its cubs or it may be defending food - this is a defensive bear that wants more space between you and it.

Predatory bears

A predatory bear attack is very rare.  These attacks usually occur in rural or remote areas. Predatory bears approach silently, and may continue to approach regardless of your attempts to deter them by yelling or throwing rocks.

What to do if a bear attacks

  • use your pepper spray
  • fight back with everything you have — in a predatory attack, your life is at risk
  • do not play dead except in the rare instance when you are sure a mother bear is attacking you in defense of cubs and your initial attempts to deter the bear have been unsuccessful (especially true for children or small-bodied adults)

Lethal force (dispatch a bear)

It’s best to prevent encounters with bears in the first place.

But if a bear continues to be a problem — and you’ve exhausted all other alternatives — as a property owner, you have the right to protect your personal property and yourself.

Any action you take must be:

  • carried out with the most humane means possible
  • done in a safe manner
  • in accordance with any applicable laws (e.g., discharging a firearm by-laws)

You do not need a hunting licence.  But if you kill a black bear, you must report it immediately to your local Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry office.

If you want to keep the dead animal for personal use, you must register for what’s called a Notice of Possession with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

It is strongly advised that killing a bear in self-defence be an action of last resort.

Updated: November 7, 2014