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Bears: Gauging the Need for Community Education Programs

What would you do if you encountered a bear? Chances are that your response is quite different depending upon where you live. If you grew up in bear country, this scenario is commonplace. If you live in a location where bears are not native, this may sound quite intimidating to you!

Across the US and Canada, residents of bear country communities are provided with a variety of bear safety education, while other locations often are not. However, bears continually move and adapt as ecosystems change and humans encroach. This means that areas where bears have not roamed for centuries are now beginning to report sightings.

During June 2015, research was conducted on residents of bear country and non- bear country (Illinois) locations. Surveys were distributed to measure current knowledge of black bears, fear of encounters, and exposure to available educational programs. Bear country respondents were also asked whether they had participated in bear education, to gauge the effectiveness of such programs in mitigating self-reported fear. A total of 453 usable surveys were recorded.

  • Bear country respondents indicated that they were ‘Very Knowledgeable’ about bears 54.93% of the time, in comparison to Illinois residents’ 1.29%.
  • Bear country respondents selected ‘Very Fearful’ only 4.93% of the time. Illinois residents reported ‘Very Fearful’ 23.79% of the time.
  • 82.39% of respondents in bear country had participated in some form of bear education. In comparison, only 2.9% of Illinois residents rated themselves as aware of the existence of such programs.
  • Residents of bear country showed decreased support for lethal management techniques, with 72.56% of respondents selecting ‘Do not at all support,” in comparison to only 46.95% of Illinois residents.

This data indicates that properly delivered community safety programs and educational literature can have a significant impact on reducing both fear of bears and support of lethal control methods. This provides encouragement for the importance of developing such programs as an integral first step in creating bear-safe communities.

Written by Brande Overbey