Georgians enjoying the great outdoors this spring are urged to be on the lookout for bears and coyotes, and to secure their food and trash to avoid feeding either.
The Wildlife Resources Division of the state Department of Natural Resources says black bears are known to roam the north Georgia mountains, the Ocmuglee River valley in centralGeorgia and the Okefenokee Swamp to the southeast. But young bears may venture into other areas in the spring and summer as they try to establish their own territory.
Seeing a black bear in the Chattahoochee Valley is pretty rare, but coyotes are everywhere, from farms to suburbs. They adapt quickly to urban environments, having been found even in inner cities.
Even in the urban environment, coyotes still prefer to eat rodents and fruit, but they will feed on whatever's available, including discarded food and house pets. Like bears, they can be dangerous if they begin to associate humans with food.
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To guard against coyotes, the DNR advises homeowners to keep pets indoors at night, install fences and floodlights to frighten predators, and keep grills, pet food, bird feeders and household garbage where coyotes can't get to them
Residents for whom coyotes become a nuisance can call Wildlife Resources at 770-918-6416 for a trapper referral. Coyotes resemble dogs, and stray dogs, or packs of wild dogs, can cause similar issues. But a coyote has distinctive features such as upright, pointed ears, a more pointed snout, a low forehead, a mottled fur pattern ranging from black to reddish-blond and a bushy tail that sticks straight out below the level of the back.
Georgians who aren't accustomed to having black bears around their homes should be mindful of the risks of attracting them while camping within the bears' range.
Black bears are omnivorous and will eat whatever's available, so they may be attracted to the odor of human food, pet food, birdseed, beehives, garbage cans and compost piles. When they associate humans with food, they lose their fear of people.
To avoid attracting bears, the DNR advises: Never feed them, keep grills, pet food, bird feeders and garbage where bears can't get to them, never leave food unattended or unsecured while camping, and if you're backpacking, hang your food at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet from the nearest tree trunk at night or any time you leave your campsite.
The DNR says Georgia’s black bear population now is estimated at 2,300-2,500.
For more information, visit www.georgiawildlife.com, call 770-918-6416, or from your local library check out the DVD “Where Bears Belong: Black Bears in Georgia.”