6 tips to keep bears from wandering onto your property

A black bear standing to eat from a bird feeder

A black bear standing to eat from a bird feeder in Hawley, Pa. (Photo: Shutterstock)

By Patrick Berkery

June 11, 2024

Whether you live deep in bear country or the more densely populated suburbs around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, experts say limiting access to potential food sources is the best way to discourage bears from wandering onto your property.

Bears wandering into neighborhoods is not uncommon during late spring and early summer in Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, as breeding season approaches, bears tend to roam looking for food, following scents from miles away that may lead them to a dumpster behind a restaurant or the bird feeder in your backyard.

Pennsylvania’s bear population has been increasing for decades, from around 4,000 in the 1970s to around 18,000 today. The Game Commission reports that black bears are typically found throughout 75% of the state — mostly in large forested areas — though sightings have been reported in all 67 counties.

This means that bears and people are coming into contact more than ever in Pennsylvania, and not just in rural, forested parts of the state.

Whether you live deep in bear country, or the more densely populated suburbs around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, it’s a good idea to do everything you can to discourage bears from wandering onto your property.

And since black bears will eat basically anything, including human food, garbage, bird feed, pet foods, fruits from trees or gardens, and livestock feed, the Game Commission strongly urges residents to limit access to these potential food sources and mask food scents on their property.

Here are six ways to do so:

  1. Don’t put out your trash until the morning of collection day. Be sure garbage cans are cleaned regularly, with hot water and chlorine bleach.
  2. If you have a grill in the backyard, clean it after every use, and properly dispose of grill grease. Don’t dump the grease out back.
  3. If you feed birds during summer (and if you’re living in bear country, you shouldn’t be), bring all bird feeders, including hummingbird feeders, in at night.
  4. Keep the area around your gardens and fruit trees clean, and avoid putting food scraps in compost piles.
  5. Store trash, bird seed, and pet food inside a building, garage, or secure shed, and keep the door closed.
  6. Don’t leave out food for wildlife. If bears know that food is available, they may visit the area more frequently. Feeding bears is against the law. It is also against the law to put out any feed, for any wildlife, that causes bears to congregate in an area.

Following these steps is no guarantee that bears will avoid your property — especially if your neighbor is not following these steps (and if they aren’t, have a talk with them about it).

If you do come across a bear on your property, the Game Commission said there are two possible courses of action.

The first is to make loud noises or shout at the bear from a distance, similar to trying to scare a dog or raccoon away from your trash. The second option is to simply leave the bear alone, and clean up whatever mess it makes after it leaves. Follow up by making sure you eliminate whatever attracted the bear in the first place.


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