JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Although it’s not officially summer until next week, summer vacation season has begun in earnest. But it’s not just Missourians who are taking trips. Our ursine counterparts are on the move, too.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) says bears are typically moving in the spring and early summer.

The MDC has already received reports of black bear sightings in the St. Louis metro region in the past month. As the state’s black bear population grows by 8% each year, Missourians in highly populated areas like St. Louis and St. Charles counties are more likely to see or encounter the animals.

According to the MDC, it’s common for the agency to get sightings in Crawford, Franklin, Jefferson, and Washington counties.

Missouri’s black bear (Ursus americanus) population is estimated to be around 990 animals. Black bears experience multiple color phases, in which their fur appears brown, red, or cinnamon in color, so don’t be fooled if you see a reddish-colored bear in the wilderness or along a highway. MDC biologists say the black bear is the only bear found in the Show Me State.

It’s during late spring and early summer that young bears wander the landscape in search of food, while adult male bears will cross great distances to find a mate.

Bears are not usually aggressive, according to the MDC. However, their motivation is to eat. Black bears weigh several hundred pounds and so it takes a lot of calories to nourish the animal.

That’s why the MDC is warning Missourians and visitors not to feed any bears they encounter. As the saying goes, a fed bear is a dead bear. Feeding a bear can make the animal comfortable around people and possibly increase the number of human-bear encounters. The animal may cause significant property damage while searching for a meal or engage in more bold behavior, which would result in the euthanizing of the bear.

Missourians can report bear sightings and submit pictures of the animals at For more information on black bears in Missouri, visit

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MDC suggests the following tips to avoid issues if a bear has been sighted in the area:

Store garbage, recyclables, and compost inside a secure building or in a bear-proof container or location.

Regularly clean and disinfect trash containers to minimize smells that could attract bears.

Keep grills and smokers clean and store them inside.

Don’t leave pet food outside. Feed pets a portion at each meal and remove the empty containers.

Refrain from using birdfeeders in bear country from April through November. If in use, hang them at least 10 feet high and 4 feet away from any structure. Keep in mind that even if a bear cannot get to the birdseed, the scent could still attract it to the area.

Use electric fencing to keep bears away from beehives, chicken coops, vegetable gardens, orchards, and other potential food sources.

These suggestions may also decrease issues with smaller animals, like coyotes and raccoons.

MDC also offered tips for staying safe while hiking and camping:

Never deliberately offer a bear food!

Keep campsites clean and store all food, toiletries, and trash in a secure vehicle or strung high between two trees.

Do not keep food or toiletries in a tent, and do not burn or bury garbage or food waste.

Make noise, such as clapping, singing, or talking loudly, while hiking to prevent surprising a bear.

Travel in a group if possible.

Keep dogs leashed.

If hiking or camping in bear country, consider carrying bear spray. Read the instructions carefully and keep bear spray immediately available on your belt or your pack’s waist strap, not buried inside your pack.

Be aware of your surroundings. If there are signs of a bear, such as tracks or scat, avoid the area.

Leave bears alone! Do not approach them, and make sure they have an escape route.