It is the responsibility of people living in black bear habitat to help prevent conflicts. The Wood River Wildlife Smart Communities Coalition does not believe there is such a thing as a “problem bear.” When a bear gets in to garbage, birdfeeders, pet food, or in to a house, the problem was never the bear (who is simply going after an easy meal). The problem is unsecured food items, or attractants. Luckily, a few changes in our behavior can remove these attractants and keep both people and bears safe. As a Wood River Valley resident, you play a vital role in ensuring that black bears stay wild. Without your help, bears that become conditioned to humans (oftentimes as a direct result of human-provided food) will be euthanized. Once food-conditioned, a bear cannot be rehabilitated and released back in to the wild (see research links). As the old adage goes, “A fed bear is a dead bear.”

Contrary to popular belief, more than 90 percent of most black bear diets consist of vegetation: berries, nuts and plants. A bear’s keen nose can smell foods up to five miles away! Although towns have hazards such as dogs, cars, and people, they also have the benefits of calories from unsecured garbage. The table below compares the calorie contents of some natural and human sourced black bear foods:

When two slices of pizza from a dumpster provides more calories than an hour spent raking huckleberry bushes, the benefits of town can quickly outweigh the risks. In addition to great noses, bears have great memories, and will revisit a home many times once they’ve found food there.

Bear safety at home

Residents of the Wood River Valley can take the following steps to keep themselves and bears safe:

  • Secure all garbage in a locked garage or shed and put out the morning of trash pickup (not the night before).
  • Do not feed birds during the months when bears are active (see our page on Feeding the Birds).
  • Do not leave pet food outside.
  • If you have fruit trees or berry bushes, harvest fruit as it becomes ripe. Pick up and dispose of or compost any fruit that falls on the ground.
  • Do not leave windows or screen doors open if you are not home.

Bear safety when recreating in black bear habitat:

  • Keep a clean camp. Contain all left over food scraps and coffee grounds in a trash bag.
  • Do not keep food or odorous items (i.e. pet food, soap, bug spray, lotion, toothpaste, chewing gum) in your tent! Familiarize yourself with the proper way to hang food before you go (link to hanging food or picture).
  • If you will be camping where trees are limited, you should carry a portable, bear-resistant canister (link to product) or odor proof barrier bags.
  • Carry bear spray with you and understand how to effectively use bear spray.
  • Do not recreate with earbuds in. Impeding your ability to hear your surroundings is never a good idea when you are on the trail.
  • Make noise as you travel, particularly if you are coming up to a corner in the trail, the brush around you is thick, or you are close to a stream. All of these can limit a bear’s ability to detect you. You do not want to sneak up on a bear, as a startled bear can quickly become an aggressive bear.
  • Keep your dogs on a leash. Several instances of dogs running ahead of their owners and startling a bear, only to turn and lead that bear back to their owner have been reported. See our page “Dogs and Wildlife”

Sources for bear-resistant equipment


What to do if you encounter a black bear:

Most black bears prefer to avoid humans, which means encounters are fairly uncommon, however, if you do encounter a bear there are some actions you should take to minimize the chance of the situation escalating to an attack.

  • Assess the situation – does the bear in front of you appear to have cubs? Is there a carcass or other food source close by?
  • If the bear is seen at a large distance, do not approach it, and give the bear as much room as possible. Turn around and go back the way you came if you can, or take a detour, even if it means getting far off the trail.


Moose are the largest members of the deer family. They have long, thin legs and long, square heads. Only males grow antlers. Both the males and females have a flap of skin and hair hanging from their throats. It’s called a bell or dewlap and contains scent glands.

The name moose comes from the Algonquian Indian word “mons” which means twig eater.  It is an appropriate name as moose are purely herbivores.  In our areas they eat the twigs and leaves of willows, quaking aspen, dogwood, and birch.  They will also eat fruit and may seek out fruit trees in our yards.

Moose do not have any upper front teeth, so they don’t just nip off leaves and twigs. Instead, they often pull twigs sideways through their mouths. They have tough lips and tongues. Stripping off two feet of leaves and shoots from a branch is no problem at all for a moose. An adult moose can eat 40 to 50 pounds of food a day.

A full-grown male, or bull, may stand six feet high at the shoulder and weigh 1,000 to 1,600 pounds. The female, or cow, is smaller; she may weigh between 800 and 1,300 pounds. Moose are covered by a thick layer of dark hollow hair.

In late May or early June, a cow moose seeks out a quiet, hidden place to give birth to her calf. Usually the cow will give birth to one calf, but sometime twins are born. The cow will keep the calf well-hidden for the first few weeks and is very protective of her calf during this time. She will charge anything that gets too close by rushing forward and striking with both front hooves. A calf weighs between 20 to 35 pounds when born, but it grows quickly on the cows’ rich milk. By the time the calf is one week old, it can run faster than a person.

Plants become part of a calf’s diet when it is two weeks old. By the second month, a calf can gain over two pounds a day, resulting in a six-month-old calf weighing nearly 400 pounds. The calf stays with the cow for the first winter. Just prior to giving birth to the next years calf, the cow will force the yearling calf away, which makes yearling moose behavior very unpredictable.

While the population of moose in Idaho are seeing declines, moose in Southcentral Idaho which includes the Wood River Valley are seemingly healthy. Moose are commonly seen throughout the Valley, year-round.

If You Encounter a Moose

When hiking, make noise to announce your presence so you do not surprise a moose.  Do not hike or trail run with headphones or earbuds. Wearing headphones or earbuds eliminates your extremely valuable sense of hearing.

If you encounter a moose you should watch the behavior of a moose, looking for signs of agitation or stress. If a moose lays its ears back, that means it is stressed and could charge at any time. A moose will often snort or grunt or stomp its hooves if it is stressed or feels threatened. If you see any of these behaviors the best course of action is to put something between you and the moose – like a tree or a vehicle if you’re near something that could be a barrier.

Never allow your dog to have the opportunity to chase a moose. Moose view dogs as a threat.  There are times when a moose might be more apt to charge a person or dog including 1) a cow with calf (never put yourself between a cow and calf), 2) during the mating rut when males can become very agitated, and 3) in late winter when moose are coming out of a long winter, food is scarce and their fat reserves are depleted.

Avoiding Conflicts

Moose are often attracted to neighborhoods to seek shelter and food. Residents should never intentionally feed moose. Landscaping around homes and businesses should be designed using plants that will not attract moose.

Daylight basement window wells should be covered using steel or aluminum grates to exclude animals like moose from falling into the window wells. Moose have been known to fall into these spaces and then end up inside the house.


Bobcats (Lynx rufous) are the most common wild cat in the United States and can be found throughout Idaho.  An adult bobcat is about twice the size of a typical domestic cat.  They can live in many different habitats including forests and deserts. Bobcats prefer areas that include a thick layer of shrubs and low growing plants for cover. Bobcats set up territories within their habitats.

Bobcats are loners for most of their lives. Males and females only associate for the brief time required for courtship and copulation. They are territorial with the males having larger home ranges that overlaps several female ranges. The ranges for females do not overlap each other.  They establish their territories with claw marks on trees, as well as marking with their urine and feces.  Bobcats, like many other territorial mammals create invisible fences with their scent.

Bobcats are predominantly terrestrial and nocturnal, though they are good climbers and are sometimes active during the day.  Bobcats, like other wild cats will slowly sneak up and pounce on their prey or sit still and wait for prey to wander too closely. Bobcats can reportedly leap 10 feet in one bound.

Bobcats eat mostly small mammals, such as rabbits, hares, mice, and squirrels. Bobcats will typically daybed in a rocky crevice, cave, hollow tree, or hole in the ground, or even under a patio deck.  Bobcats have many places around their homes to rest and may change their shelter daily. Only female bobcats while raising young will stay in the same den for more than a few days.

Young of the year bobcats, kittens, are typically born in late spring. Usually the female will have two or three kits, but sometimes as many as seven kits are born. Kits look very similar to domestic kittens when they are born with their eyes sealed shut and ears bent down. In about 10 days, the kit’s eyes open. They will drink the female’s milk for about two months and are dependent upon their mother for food for about eight months.  They can live 10-15 years in the wild.

Bobcats are typically shy and secretive, but bobcats have been spotted within city limits of Ketchum and Sun Valley.

Bobcat or Canada Lynx (pics from website – Wildlife Express)

People sometimes confuse bobcats and lynx, and while they do look a bit alike, in Southcentral Idaho we only have bobcats, no lynx.  How do you know if you are looking at a bobcat or lynx?


  •  Brownish-red in color with black spots or bars on belly and sometimes on legs and body
  •  Small ear tufts and white spot on back of ear
  •  Tail with dark bars on top and white on bottom
  •  Short legs and small feet


  •  Usually mixed shades of gray or yellowish tan in color
  •  Long ear tufts
  •  Large tufts of fur on cheeks outlined in black
  •  Solid black tip on tail
  •  Long legs and large feet

If You Encounter a Bobcat

Bobcats are generally shy and avoid humans.  It’s likely that you will rarely see one.  However, bobcats can be aggressive if threatened or if cubs are nearby.  Additionally, they can prey on unattended pets.

If you encounter a bobcat:

  • Never approach the animal, especially if it’s near a kill or with young.
  • Never offer it food.
  • Do not run, a cat’s instinct is to chase.
  • Face the animal and talk firmly while slowly backing away.
  • Always leave the animal an escape route.
  • Do not crouch down or try to hide, instead try to appear larger.
  • Do not take your eyes off the animal or turn your back.
  • If the animal does not flee, be more assertive by shouting, waving your arms and throwing anything available.
  • Keep dogs leashed so they do not provoke attacks by animals.

Avoiding Conflicts

  • To discourage bobcats from your property:
  • Do not put meat, fish or other attractive foods in your composter.
  • Do not leave garbage cans outside overnight.
  • Secure garbage lids, clean up spilled garbage and do not leave garbage around your house or campsite
  • Empty the grease trap from barbecues.
  • Feed pets indoors.


Skunks are found all across Idaho. About the only places where you might not find them is in thick forests, very dry lands and high mountains.

Skunks are most active at night. During the day, they usually stay in dens which are typically old holes made by badgers or rabbits. They are quite willing to den near people, including under decks, in crawl spaces, and in sheds.  In the Wood River Valley skunks enter dens in the fall and emerge in the spring when snow has mostly gone which varies by elevation but ranges from early April to mid-May.

Skunks are typically solitary, but you will find females with their young together. Baby skunks are called kits. Kits are born nearly naked, blind and deaf. They stay in the den until they are about six to seven weeks old. By this time, their scent is fully developed, so they can protect themselves.  Skunks do not hibernate, but they do sleep through the snowiest and coldest parts of winter.

Skunks eat mostly insects, but they are opportunistic and will eat mice, eggs, berries and plants.

The characteristic nasty smell of a skunk comes from two glands in its back end. The glands are about the size of a grape and hold three teaspoons of their scent, which is enough for five to six sprays. It takes one week to make just two teaspoons of their scent fluid.

If You Encounter a Skunk

Skunks only use their spray as a last resort. They will typically try and get away first, then they give a warning. Skunks preferred method to tell you that you’re too close is to raise their tails, stomp their feet and click their teeth. If this doesn’t work, they aim their tails at the predator and bend their bodies in the shape of a “u”. That way they can see where they’re spraying. The skunk squeezes muscles around the glands. The spray shoots out of the skunk like water out of a bath toy. The spray can fly out ten to fifteen feet. So if you encounter a skunk give it a wide birth and keep your dog under control.  Skunk spray not only smells bad, but also stings the eyes and nose of a predator. A direct hit in the eyes can make an animal blind, but only for a short time. Tears will wash the spray out of the eyes. If you get sprayed, toss your clothes in the trash can. Getting the smell out of clothing is hard. Wash your skin with a mixture of liquid dishwashing detergent, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide.

Avoiding Conflicts

The best way to deter skunks from your property is to make it unattractive to them.  This means making food unavailable (keeping garbage cans in at night, cleaning up fruit off the ground) and blocking off spaces where they might try to den.  Relocating animals isn’t very effective since another skunk will mostly likely move into the territory.



No matter where you live in Idaho chances are that a coyote is not far away. Coyotes are found all across Idaho. One reason they are found across the state is that they are extremely adaptable to many different habitats, including urban habitats. One thing that makes coyotes so adaptable is that they will eat just about anything. They mainly eat small mammals, like mice, ground squirrels and rabbits, but they will also eat dead animals, birds, snakes, lizards, fruits and berries.

Coyotes are the second largest wild dog in Idaho. On average, coyotes weigh between 20 to 45 pounds and measure 30 to 40 inches long. They have a bushy tail and large ears shaped like triangles. Coyotes can run up to 40 miles-per-hour and can leap over an eight foot fence.

Coyotes communicate using a yippy kind of howl. Coyotes bark to tell others, like people and pets to stay away from their den or food. A low huff is used to call pups. Coyotes also mark their territory by urinating on bushes or rocks or by rubbing a scent gland on located at the base of their tails on things like rocks, logs or bushes. While coyotes have and mark their territories, they usually only defend them when they have pups.

Coyote pups are born in dens. Coyotes may dig their own den, or they may use an old badger or fox home. A typical litter is usually six to seven pups. At birth, pups weigh only one-half of a pound. They are helpless, blind and have limp ears and pug noses. When they are about 10 days old, their eyes open, and their ears start to straighten and stand up. They stay in the den and drink milk from the female until they are about three weeks old, then they begin to wander out of the den and eat meat regurgitated by the adults. By the time the pups are five to seven weeks old they no longer drink the females’ milk and start to learn to hunt. They are the size of an adult when they are nine to 12 months old. The first year of life is the riskiest for a coyote. Only 10 – 20 % of the young-of-the-year live to be one year-old. If a coyote does survive its first year, it could live up to 10 years of age.

If You Encounter a Coyote

Coyotes generally fear people and keep their distance.  However if you encounter a coyote that does not  move away from you:

  • stand your ground and retain eye contact
  • wave your arms, jump up and down, yell, or throw objects in the direction of the coyote, though not directly at it, to get it to move away from you
  • if the individual appears injured or sick do not try to scare it away, leave it alone and move on

Avoiding Conflicts

Most coyotes fear people, however in rare cases some individuals may associate people with food and become habituated to people.  In towns coyotes may find unsecured garbage and unattended domestic animals.   To help avoid habituation keep garbage in doors at night, keep compost in secure containers, keep fruit off the ground, feed pets inside, keep pets indoors at night, don’t let your pet interact with a coyote.