Black bear sightings have been on the rise in recent years.

Bears were common in Missouri until the early 1900s after which time they were virtually wiped out in the state.

Since reintroduction efforts by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in the 1950s and '60s, black bears have dispersed north out of Arkansas and started recolonizing parts of southern Missouri.

Recent Missouri Department of Conservation research shows there are approximately 350 black bears in the state, most of which live in the forests south of Interstate 44. Bears have been seen sporadically on Fort Leonard Wood over the last few years.

Recent sightings should remind us of the need to be bear aware, learn how to live with bears and to give wildlife their space.

Black bears are classified as opportunistic omnivores, feeding mostly on roots, grass, nuts, acorns, fruit, insects, honey, small mammals and dead animals.

During autumn, they must consume enormous amounts of calories to gain weight for winter hibernation. They will gain an additional one third of their body weight before hibernation.

Bears will often seek out the easiest food source in the autumn, as they are preparing for winter hibernation. This is often when bears become a nuisance, raiding dumpsters, trash cans, bird feeders and pet food in search of easy calories.

It is important to ensure that your dumpster lid remains closed at night, don't put your garbage out until the morning it is collected, and clean up excess food after your pets eat.
If you encounter a bear, remain calm, do not panic and make the bear aware of your presence.

Do not corner the bear, and make sure it has an escape route. Try to frighten the bear by yelling, throwing rocks or waving your arms. Slowly back away as you are doing this.

If a bear stands on its hind legs or moves closer, it may be trying to get a better view or detect smells in the air. Black bears will sometimes "bluff charge" when cornered, threatened, or attempting to steal food.

Stand your ground and then slowly back away. If the bear snaps or pops its jaw, makes huffing sounds or swats the ground, you are too close. If the bear will not leave, retreat to a car or building.
Black bears are naturally afraid of humans. They become dangerous when they lose their fear of humans or associate humans with food sources such as garbage, pet food, bird feeders and unattended coolers.

Never feed a bear, and never approach a bear. Bears are wildlife and therefore unpredictable.

If you encounter an aggressive or unyielding bear, contact the Military Police Desk at 573.596.0131, ext. 66141.

(Editor's note: Force is the chief of Game Enforcement Operations at Fort Leonard Wood. Kenton Lohraff, Fort Leonard Wood Natural Resources mammals biologist, contributed to this
article.)