This summer's drought has resulted in a widespread failure in the acorn crop which in turn has bears rummaging for food in residential garbage cans.

"We were getting calls from people who had them in the apple trees, and now the apples are over and they're into garbage," said Curtis Edwards, assistant wildlife biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Usually this time of year, I don't get that many calls, but this year, they're everywhere."

The agency has been receiving numerous calls in the past month - five alone, on one day - from people spotting bears near their homes or in their garbage.

Fences are of little deterrent. One tore a screen door off a house. Others are brazen enough to venture into cities.

If they're hungry enough, they'll pry off screens, break windows and get into houses. They've been known to tear garage doors down as if they're made of cardboard. And they'll go after the least likely food suspects: the remains of meat on a barbecue grill, the rest of the seeds in the bird feeder, dog food.

"Normally, bears follow food sources through the seasons, and this time of year they're actively feeding in the oak patches, putting a finishing touch to their fat reserves before hibernation," Edwards said. "This year's different because there are very few acorns to feed on, and it's not cold enough to hibernate yet."

Edwards suggests spraying bleach or ammonia in garbage cans each time new material is added to discourage the bears. Garbage should be stored inside sheds or garages, and only put out late on pickup night.

"Hopefully, that will keep from having these things get a taste for garbage," Edwards said, "and within the next couple of weeks, the bears should reduce their presence in neighborhoods as they prepare for a long slumber."

Other preventive measures include installing electric fences - Edwards said our ursine neighbors really don't like those - buying motion-detector lights, which also can trigger sprinklers to go on or the sound of a barking dog; or even spraying the edges of doorways and windows with a pine-scented cleaner.

Bears usually are about as comfortable being around people as people are being around them, and most times they lumber off into the woods if they hear someone coming. Loud noises - banging pots, clapping and yelling - can also scare them off.

But if one continues to approach, it is best to remain quiet and slowly back away.

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