Town Bear, Country Bear

Black and brown bears are one of the natural wonders that we love about living in Pennsylvania. Since most of the state is considered “bear country” we have to get used to living with how bears impact us and how we impact them. 

Earlier this year I wrote about bear safety protocols. It’s extremely important that we all know what to do if we happen upon a bear on the trail. Sometimes, though, Smokey’s curious cousins wander out of the woods where they forage. Human dwellings with their offering of weekly take-out bins tempt them to forage in town and sometimes too close for comfort. 

This is an old picture. Once Lexi found a bear cub track on the trail.

What to Do When a Bear Visits Your Trash

A bear sighting in town is usually cause for quite a buzz among the residents. It can be frightening and a nuisance! Here are two important steps you need to take.

Leave it alone. As you would do on the trail, don’t approach the bear. Don’t let any pets out while the bear is in sight. 

Report it to the appropriate regional Game Commission office. They are the ones responsible for capturing and relocating errant bears. 

Example of a bear release. Photo credit or

Locking Down Your Trash Cans

There are many waste bin technologies and strategies you can employ including bear resistant bins, trash can enclosures, electric fences, scent deterrents, etc. I’ll go into some detail about a few that are easy to try for rural town residents. 

Scents that bears hate. Bears follow their noses, so including some scents that they find unpleasant may cause them to pass over your cans. A few things to try are bleach, ammonia-based cleaners, and pine-scented cleaners. Wash down your outdoor trash cans regularly to keep the clean scent strong enough to overpower or at least match the trash smell. 

Bear resistant trash cans. You can purchase a bear deterring garbage can or DIY your current receptacle into something more difficult for bears to deal with.

In our town, we have the type of trash service where a robotic arm on the truck picks up the cans. Consequently, we can’t have locking lids. But the height of the cans and weight of the lid has dramatically cut down on access for cats, dogs, and raccoons. I haven’t cleaned up a scattered trash mess in years. 

A bear would be a different story though. If we ever have a bear problem, I’d probably resort to using pine scented cleaner on my bins to deter the bears. 

Trail Connection

If you’ve ever encountered a complicated receptacle on a trailhead or in a park, the goal is to lock down the trash like Fort Knox. The key is to use the apparatus correctly. A National Park Service Ranger once quipped that there is an unfortunate overlap between the smartest bears and the dumbest tourists.

While cleaning up after a bear or other animal has enjoyed a garbage smorgasbord is no fun, the primary goal of keeping them out is not convenience. We don’t want wild animals to habituate to eating human leftovers. It’s not good for their health and increases the possibility of interactions between people and wildlife. The Game Commission has a saying that fed bears become dead bears. Using methods to keep animals out of the trash is safer for them and for us.

Categories Conservation, resource, Spring, Summer, Tips, Trail town, Wildlife

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