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Expect more bear sightings through August, wildlife experts say

According to wildlife groups, North Carolinians may see an increase in bear numbers during the spring in both rural and urban areas on the mountains, on the coast and in the Piedmont.

Calls to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) Wildlife Helpline have increased with daily questions about bears. According to the committee, calls typically peak from late April through August.

The NCWRC says there are several factors behind an increase in sightings.

“Bears emerge from their winter dens in the spring and become more active,” said Colleen Olfenbuttel, NCWRC hunting mammal and survey supervisor and bear expert. “Mother bears have emerged from their dens with their cubs, 1-year-old bears are leaving their family group and wandering in search of a new home, and now that breeding season is upon us, male bears are beginning to travel extensively in search of mates . Plus, bears are hungry after hibernation, so they all wander around looking for food.”

According to the National Park Service, black bear mating season occurs in the summer.

According to the NCWRC, natural food sources are more limited in the spring than in the summer or fall. While food such as broadleaf plants and insects are available in early spring, bears will actively seek out and utilize any plentiful food source, including unsecured garbage bins and bird feeders in residential areas.

Another reason why bear sightings are becoming more common is that residential footprints have increased, meaning people and bears are sharing more of the same land, creating opportunities for bears to approach people’s homes and properties, especially if food sources remain readily available.

According to the NCWRC, areas where bears are fed intentionally or unintentionally experience an increased number of vehicle strikes and a loss of people’s natural wariness. Bears can also become bold if they are purposefully fed or if they become accustomed to eating outdoor pet food, table scraps and birdseed.

It can cause bears to damage property, enter occupied homes and pose a direct threat to human safety.

“It is imperative that the public never feed a bear, intentionally or unintentionally, as this will habituate it to humans and alter its natural behavior,” Olfenbuttel said.

Experts say proactive prevention of bear problems is critical. If you see a bear, work with your neighbors to remove outdoor food and other attractants.

According to NCWRC’s BearWise program, removing these things will encourage the bears to move on and not return.

Ashley Hobbs of BearWise says that while black bears are not inherently dangerous and are rarely aggressive towards humans, people should do their part to avoid them and reduce the potential for conflict.

“BearWise offers proven techniques to prevent conflicts with black bears, in addition to providing solutions to address the conflicts you may already be experiencing,” she said.

BearWise’s recommendations also include:

  • Never feed or approach bears.
  • Safe food, waste and recycling.
  • Remove bird feeders when bears are active.
  • Never leave pet food outside.
  • Clean and store grills and smokers.
  • Warn neighbors of bear activity.

According to NCWRC, the Wildlife Helpline also receives more calls this time of year about possible orphaned cubs.

The organization says a bear cub seen alone is rarely orphaned or abandoned.

“People who attempt to capture or handle a cub not only endanger the cub’s safety, but also their own if the mother bear is nearby, as she may try to defend her cubs,” Olfenbuttel said. “Even if you don’t see the mother bear, she may be nearby and the cubs are waiting for her to return. If you try to capture a bear cub, you could end up orphaning it, injuring it, or both.”

NCWRC recommended giving the mother enough space and time to reconnect with her cub. To avoid harming the bear cub yourself:

  • Do not touch the cub
  • Do not try to catch the cub
  • Do not remove the cub
  • Do not feed the cub
  • Record your location and call the NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401. If you are outside business hours or on a weekend, please call a district wildlife biologist to report it