The shootings started July 1. In one of the five cases, a livestock operator shot a bear while trying to protect his cattle.  In the other cases, the bears were shot by people who said they felt threatened by the animal.

  Wildlife officials are concerned about the shootings.  Bears are protected wildlife in Utah, just like deer and elk.

“People don’t appear to be seeing any more bears in Utah this year than they saw last year,” says Justin Dolling, game mammals coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. “And last year, no one outside of our agency shot a bear to protect themselves or others.”

Dolling says there are plenty of things you can do if you encounter a black bear.  “Shooting a bear should be a last resort,” he says.

Dolling says black bears are usually more afraid of us than we are of them.  That’s the first thing to remember if you see one.

“If a black bear knows you’re in the area, it will probably turn and run away from you as fast as it can,” Dolling says.

Three things can cause a black bear to change its behavior, though:

•If you get between a mother bear and her cubs.

•If you get between a bear and a dead animal the bear has been feeding on.

•If you get near a bear that’s coming to your area for a free meal.

The bear has probably gotten used to finding a free meal because people have left food out where the bear could get to it.  Or they’ve scattered food scraps and other litter around the campsite or the cabin area.

A bear’s drive for a free and easy meal can cause it to lose its fear of people.

If you see a black bear, call the DWR.  You can reach the DWR at 1-800-662-DEER (3337) or by calling 911.

“We’ll send one of our officers or biologists to the area immediately,” Dolling says.  “He or she will look the situation over and take the best action.”

However, if you can’t call the DWR because you’ve encountered a black bear at close range, Dolling says the best thing to do is stand your ground.  Make yourself look as big as possible by holding your arms out.  And make a lot of noise.

“Doing these things will usually be enough to intimidate the bear and cause it to turn and leave,” he says.

Dolling says if you are attacked by a bear, be aggressive and fight back.  “Use your fists, your backpack, rocks or anything you can get your hands on,” he says.

Shooting a bear should be a last resort.  “If you have a gun and you’re attacked, keep shooting the bear until you’re certain that it’s dead,” Dolling says.

Dolling reminds Utahns that DWR officers investigate every bear shooting that occurs outside of the state’s hunting season.  They give their findings to the county attorney in the county in which the shooting occurred.

If the attorney determines that the shooting wasn’t justified, the shooter could be charged with up to a third degree felony for poaching.

And that could result in up to five years in jail, a $5,000 fine and the loss of the person’s hunting privileges in Utah and 30 other states for up to seven years.

More tips about how to stay safe in bear country are available at  www.wildlife.utah.gov/bearsafety.