Over the weekend, several social media posts indicated a bear may have been sighted in the Osage Beach area near Passover Road.

The Lake is known for many things, but having a black bear population is usually not one of them — until now. Black bear sitings are happening more often and the Missouri Department of Conservation is encouraging people to “Be Bear Aware.” 

Over the weekend, several social media posts indicated a bear may have been sighted in the Osage Beach area near Passover Road. The Lake Sun was unable to officially confirm the sightings. 

In Missouri, it is estimated that there are about 350 native black bears. In an interview earlier this year, Tyler Brown with the Missouri Department of Conservation in Camdenton, reported sightings at Lake of the Ozarks are on the rise. 

Last year there were three confirmed black bears in the area. They were spotted in the Ha Ha Tonka/Macks Creek area. One of the bears was struck by a car traveling on Highway 54 and was euthanized due to the extent of its injuries. There have also been reports from residents from other spots around the lake. 

Brown attributes the growth in the Lake area to the increased population in southern Missouri. Bears are traveling north in search of territory and food. 

In recent years, bears have been captured inside the city limits of Osage Beach and Greenview. Brown says that the black bears are more of a nuisance than a danger — raiding bird feeders, pet food containers and trash for food. 

“The main issue is keeping them away from food sources so they don’t become dependent on that,” Brown said. “We need to give them their space so that they do not rely on us to live in the area.”  

Biologists are studying these bears to gather information about their behaviors and safely manage the population. One of the sightings at the Lake last year was a female bear with a MDC track collar. It is believed the bear is the only female this far north in the state. A track collar was placed on her after she had to be trapped and relocated upon entry into the city limits of Lebanon. 

“I believe we will start seeing more and more encounters,” Brown said. “We need to live in harmony. The more educated the public is, the less conflict we will have.” 

About the bears

A native to Missouri, black bears were abundant until the late 1800s when they were nearly wiped out from unregulated killing and from habitat loss when Ozark forests were logged. MDC research shows that a small number of native black bears survived. Over time, their numbers increased and continue to do so.

Results of ongoing black-bear research by MDC staff and others show that the animals have been sighted in about half the counties in Missouri, primarily south of the Missouri River, with most bears located in the southern third of the state. 

Black bears are a protected species in Missouri. 

MDC anticipates a limited hunting season as a population-management method once black bear numbers reach a population estimate of about 500 animals. 

Bear tips

MDC offers these tips for avoiding attracting black bears to possible food sources:

• Don't leave pet food sitting outside. Feed pets the portion they'll eat at each meal and remove the empty containers.

• Store garbage, recyclables, and compost inside a secure building or in a bear-proof container until the day of trash pick-up.

• Keep grills and smokers clean and store them inside.

• Don't use birdfeeders from April through November in bear country, or hang them at least 10 feet high and 4 feet away from any structure.

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

• Keep campsites clean and store all food, toiletries and trash in a secure vehicle or strung high between two trees. Do not burn or bury garbage or food waste.

 

While close encounters are uncommon, MDC offers this advice when outdoors in black-bear country:

• Make noise while walking or hiking to prevent surprising a bear. Clap, sing, or talk loudly.

• Travel in a group if possible.

• Pay attention to the surroundings and watch for bear signs, such as tracks or claw or bite marks on trees.

• Keep dogs leashed.

• Leave a bear alone! Do not approach it. Make sure it has an escape route.

• If encountering a bear up close, back away slowly with arms raised to look larger. Speak in a calm, loud voice. Do not turn away from the bear. Back away slowly. Do not run.

To report a bear sighting go to www.mdc.mo.gov/ReportBears. For more information, go to www.mdc.mo.gov/bearaware. 

Tips and bear history provided by MDC.