ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOV.com) -- Police are warning residents to keep an eye out for black bears in the area.

Although the vast majority live south of I-44, more and more are coming into the St. Louis area.

So many have been spotted the Department of Conservation is cautioning residents to stay away from the bears to avoid upsetting them.

“The first thing you should do is not try and approach the bear,” said Dan Zarlenga with the department.

Zarlenga said residents can expect more and more bear encounters in the coming years.

There's a corridor with little-to-no development and few roads that is heavily wooded, which makes a natural path the bears are following to move from the Ozarks into the area south and west of St. Louis.

Zarlenga estimates there's anywhere from 540 to 840 bears in Missouri and the population is growing by nine percent a year.

The Department of Conservation will relocate a nuisance bear and they do put GPS collars on some.

While most live south of I-44, they've been spotted as far north as the Iowa state line.

“We've collared bears in Warren County that have originally been spotted in the southern Ozarks so they move around quite a bit,” Zarlenga said.

If you do encounter a bear, Zarlenga says make sure you leave it an escape route and calmly back away.

“One thing you don't want to do is approach the bear, even to take a selfie. You don't want to turn and run away from the bear either because that might trigger a chasing instinct,” he said.

The biggest concern the department has is that people will feed them.

“Once these bears become accustomed to getting food they can become persistent, a nuisance and more aggressive,” Zarlenga said.

He says they have a saying, “A fed bear is a dead bear.”

Copyright 2019 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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