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Bears and property damage: Foraging for solutions in a grizzly situation

While grizzly, brown, and polar bears can be found in North America, the American Black Bear is a widely distributed North American mammal with 16 subspecies and the most common in the US. With an overall North American population ranging up to 900,000, they mostly inhabit forested areas and mountain regions. Some black bears wander out of their forests into human communities, especially after waking out of hibernation in late March. Bears have learned that these places are often sources of free food. As bear sightings in residential neighborhoods and communities increase and become more common, what happens if a bear damages your property, home, or vehicle. Is there insurance coverage?

As is the case with most coverage questions, there isn’t a definite yes or no answer on whether all damages would be covered. However, in the case of a bear intrusion most property damage would be covered for things like breakage of glass and damages to the building or personal property of the insured. However, there is one key exclusion for animals that could apply. This is the exclusion for nesting or infestation, or discharge or release of waste products or secretions, by insects, birds, rodents, or other animals. Not a pleasant thought but there would not be coverage for damages related to this exclusion. So, what could be covered?

  • A standard homeowner's policy generally covers bear damage such as torn siding, shattered windows, and doors, plus harm to interior items such as furniture. Such claims would be subject to an insurance policy owner's deductible.
  • Boats, swimming pools or hot tubs in the yard would not be covered by the policy for the house. These items may have separate policies, or they may be excluded since they are not physically attached to the home. Fencing could be covered if it is considered part of the attached property to the home.
  • Hitting a bear with an automobile is no different than hitting a deer or another animal. Your automobile is covered for damage if you have comprehensive coverage. This would include damage and vandalization done by a bear to the vehicle. If you have only liability or collision, then coverage is not available. From 2020-2021 there were 2,350 State Farm claims for bear collisions and an estimated 13,687 for the insurance industry. California was the #1 state for these collisions.
  • To be sure of any bear-related coverages, policy holders should consult their insurance agent or company for clarification.

If you do have damage, take important first steps and contact your agent or insurer.

Tips for reacting to and preventing bear visits

If you find yourself in a situation where a bear has been sighted in your neighborhood or on your property, there are some tips for reaction and prevention. First and foremost, DO NOT APPROACH THE BEAR and inform your local authorities.

Scare off the bear

If you see a bear in the yard, make a big and loud noise and to scare them off your property. To ensure your own safety, do so when you are inside the house, at an open window or in other indoor location. Some suggestions include banging on pans and metal handrails, using an air horn or other ultrasonic deterrents, and clapping hands & yelling loudly at them. After being deterred away from the human being's property, bears tend to go back in their original path. If the path is blocked, they may linger around your property to find another possible route.

Do not feed the bear

It seems obvious but everyone in the neighborhood shall follow. This may lead to more human-bear and pet-bear interactions. Once the black bears connect your living areas to food sources, they will come back frequently to hunt. For everyone’s safety in the neighborhood, stop feeding the bear.

Use trash cans with tight lids

Even if everyone stops feeding the animals, they might still come back. They can still look for some food from the uncovered trash cans or trash that is disposed of and not secured.

Watch pets

Half of the bear attacks on dogs in North America involve a dog off leash. Your pet dogs are at risk if you leave them alone in the garden or walking the dog without using a leash.

In fact, no matter if there are bears, coyotes or other predatory animals in your neighborhood or not, it is best to keep your pets on leash and attended for their safety.

Remove plants that attract bears

To keep bears away from your yard, be aware of plants in your yard that may attract them. For example, berries and fruit trees are within the bear's diet, which may attract them to your garden.

Remove bird feeders

If you choose to put out bird feeders, do so in the winter months from December through late-March when bears are in their dens.

Finally, whatever you do, do not take matters into your own hands. Be safe. Contact the appropriate authorities. In residential areas, hunting bears is illegal. If a bear is causing a problem, the Department of Fish & Wildlife may use various hazing methods like noisemakers and flashbangs and depending on the severity of the issue try to capture the bear and relocate or even having to euthanize the bear. Do your part on preventing bears from becoming food conditioned and avoiding these kinds of outcomes.

For more information on what to do if you encounter a bear, preventing conflicts with bears and the benefits of bears, visit The Humane Society of the United States. To report a bear in your neighborhood, contact your local authorities.

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